Chennai: “The last 14 years was pure hard work and the last six months was absolute magic!” said social activist Nityanand Jayaram, while speaking about the 15 year struggle against Unilever that tasted success after the corporate announced on Wednesday its decision to finally compensate its mercury factory workers.
Since 2001, Jayaram and several other activists have worked tirelessly to get justice for workers at Hindustan Unilever mercury thermometer factory. Many of these workers have lost their lives or those of their loved ones and continue to suffer illnesses due to many years of mercury poisoning . The 15- year campaign got world wide attention when a rap video by singer Sofia Ashraf in 2015 went viral all over the world, getting retweets and reposts by top musicians. Unilever has now finally announced compensation for 591 workers on Wednesday.
The UK- based company’s decision was welcomed by those involved with the cause but activists claim that the battle is only half won. “ We still have to make sure we make Unilever clean up the contaminated Kodaikanal site to international standards and not resort to any sub standard solutions,” said Jayaram. The next step for campaigners is to mobilise global voices and draw attention to Unilever and CEO Paul Polman, to force them to clean up the mercury levels in the soil in Kodaikanal.
The mercury level in the soil is presently 250 times that of the normal level. The activists are also planning to target Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board, who have agreed to Unilever’s sub standard clean up, “ We will force TNPCB to demand better clean up solutions and we will start our campaigns in the lead up to the Assembly elections and will do the same to Unilever in the lead up to the shareholders meeting in April,” explained Jayaram.
Activists, including Jayaram and Ashraf, took to social media to thank all supporters and celebrate the news. Ashraf in a video credited social media activists and all those who “shared” her song and said, “ There is much left to do and the battle is only half won, but I don’t want to be cynical and want to use this opportunity to let everyone know that we have all contributed to this success in our own way even if it was just by retweeting the video or liking it!”
Vouching to continue the use of social networking to further their cause, Jayaram said, “We’ll carry on garnering support from social media because unfortunately the mainstream media has a memory that lasts only two days and therefore there is more guarantee that our message will reach far and wide through social media.”