Unilever in Kodaikanal

Unilever’s brands and available alternatives are listed and linked below if you’d like to boycott them, for their devastation to humans and environment in Kodaikanal for which Unilever has refused to take responsibility (see 2nd heading). tl;dr: see the petition, block quotes and the list of kind products, the DIY page where all is linked except food recipes and reports on the Kodaikanal issue.

Jhatkaa.org created a petition asking Paul Polman, Unilever’s CEO, to clean up Kodaikanal’s toxic contamination and to compensate affected workers.

Unilever’s thermometer plant in Kodaikanal exposed many workers to mercury poisoning, without giving them any protective equipment or information about the disastrous health effects of mercury. This toxic mercury, dumped around the factory and in forests, continues to contaminate soil and groundwater, affecting thousands. The workers cannot afford private healthcare, and have been fighting for 14 years, asking Unilever to clean up the toxic contamination, and to compensate them for their medical expenses. They need us to stand with them […].

There has been a mobilisation for justice and compensation since 2008. Was Greenpeace involved and has Greenpeace now been driven out of India because Modi didn’t want pro-environmental groups in the way of business growth, I heard about it probably on DW news a while back. In any case I will continue boycotting Unilever as I did for years for animal testing before knowing about Kodaikanal, let us assume they clean up the region and compensate ex-workers families as well as stop testing on animals, I will keep boycotting them for colourism. What an amazing coincidence that they exploit poor brown workers while selling the most popular skin lightening brand I’ve seen in the Indian diaspora.

Unilever brands include Dove, Rexona, Axe, SunSilk, Domestos, Flora, Miko/ Ola/ Selecta, Knorr, Lifebuoy, Lipton, Lux, Magnum, Omo, Signal, Amora, Biotex, Brut, Cajoline, Cif, Cupasoup, Fair&Lovely [which promotes colourism e.g in the country they exploit and here], Impulse, Comfort, Jik, Lakmé, klondike, Maizena, Marmite, Mentadent, Pears, Skip, Solero, StYves, Coleman’s, Dawn, Fruit d’or, Gabi, Glen tea, Joko tea, Lyons, Mon savon, Organics, Robertsons… I’ve left out all that did not look familiar in their 13 pages of logos!

If only there’d been a fairtrade soapnut industry for these workers instead, I don’t know any risks associated with it, soapnuts is a plant local to them and we could use all sorts of detergents made from it (it didn’t need fabric softening), it’s also neutral for the planet. It’s a fact that detergents such as the Unilever ones listed above are toxic to fauna in the environment and waterways. Only a company that will never care would make a thermometer factory near forests and try save costs by not giving equipment to poor workers they targeted for their lack of awareness.

Alternative brands to some of the above detergents and toothpaste and DIY. I bet it’s cheaper Bicarb or vinegar can replace your Cajoline if Dr. Bronner’s can replace Skip and dishwashing soap and personal care, it’s healthier for you, kids and pets (avoid the tea-tree type if you have dog friends*). I will see what I can list aside from dairy-like products I’m allergic to all these foods since long, and most of their alternatives, we have local black tea brands. I’m too disabled to shop or to know what you’d replace, say, Marmite with.

There’s an issue here with kind products, or rather with some places that sell them, I’m yet to find well-informed staff (probably the shop owners aren’t well-informed too) so as well as telling them stuff for free (these days on the phone) I’m blogging all the info I can. Drop me a comment or email if you have any questions on kind products.

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*Tea-tree when injested, can cause seizures to dogs. I do use the tea-tree one as antibacterial after visiting dog-friends – I’m allergic to them, unlike other fur-allergics I don’t use disinfectant. Lavender is also anti-bacterial and anti-fungal but I hate the smell.

Please help our protest – dir non a sårbon

This petition, which anyone can and should sign (please do sign if you haven’t), has been circulating for months. There are over 1.2 million inhabitants on the island, activists and conscious citizens are few, and one activist is putting his life on the line to get the Government to show responsibility towards the people who put them in charge. Other actions around this issue including a case in the Supreme Court since 2003 has failed to stop the government from issuing a building permit to a Malaysian company to start building coal power plants in Albion, a coastal village last week. Update: there has been 18,300 signatures collected counting the physical petition as well.

My suffering is nothing compared to the suffering the Earth has endured, continues to endure and is programmed to endure

Jeff Lingaya, in spite of other activists trying to dissuade him, started a hunger strike in front of the Ministry of Environment and 3 basic requests regarding transparency and democratic process had to be submitted repeatedly, on several days by other activists, finally the Minister only addressed 2 of those yesterday, on day 8. While Jeff accepted medical treatment and a drip, he threatened to refuse treatment as he carries on with the strike [Update, Jeff has now refused treatment and said he’s prepared to fight to the end (in video)]. According to the conditions in the act, the government can withdraw the permit but they maintain that they can’t and the PM has tried to turn this into a racial issue. I’ll try my best to sum that up in another post, you’ll find more details below* although much of it in French and Creole (this video of his speech at the vigil and others).

Photos of candlelight vigil in support of Jeff and our protest

Jeff has rightly criticised both the Government and the Opposition party, none of them are benefitting from his strike (his choice but he had no choice, and emphasizes that it’s “our strike”) as he has stressed a few times, this is for the sake of everyone, human and non-human, by a concerned citizen who has had enough. Jeff is the kindest social and environmental justice activist I have come across, brave, determined, visionary, analytical, caring and dedicated. I remain honoured to know him as a friend and while I don’t wish to see him to continue with the strike, it is hardly him sacrificing his life, it is our government risking his life or Jeff about to lose it to show us how much the Government doesn’t care. I’ve never voted for them or the Opposition, never will and was never asked what form of governance I would like, or how land should be unfairly distributed, or how resources are to be exploited. No citizen of the country agreed to that, just like no one agreed to sell the land and the environment to a coal power project, and pay taxes as investment, suffer from the pollution and pay with our health.

People may see a strike having some consequences and many have gone to show their support to Jeff in Port-Louis especially last night (photos and video of the event linked above), and people may see some organisations of activists or citizens like CARES, Rezistans ek Alternativ and Say NO to Coal mobilizing, but these are citizens like you and I, organisations or collectives are not magical entities that can miraculously overcome oppressive regimes or fight the good fight for everyone else, everyone needs to get involved in social and other struggles, and help as they can, every voice and every bit adds up. People may see that the struggle seems to be moving forward right now, but please do realise that it is after 10 years, and more urgently  it is costing our friend HIS LIFE!!

Relevant Extract from the Environment Protection Act 2002.
Relevant Extract from the Environment Protection Act 2002.

*Links: Thanks to Say No to Coal for the image and there is a Say No to Coal group.

Update: Jeff survived 13 days of a hunger strike, and the artivism and protests continue.