In the 23 days the “Kodaikanal Won’t” music video has been on YouTube, it has gotten (as of 21 Aug):
3,051,728 million views
- 86,692 signatures (just short of its 100,000 mark) asking Unilever to own up, on jhatkaa.org, the organization that launched the video.
- #kodaikanalwont and #unileverpollutes trending on Twitter.
Written and performed by rapper Sofia Ashraf, the video sheds light on the mercury poisoning in Kodaikanal by Unilever, and features shots of protesters, traditional Indian dancers and hip hop artists. However, a majority of news stories painted Ashraf as the sole campaigner, while focusing heavily on the novelty that is a young female rap star in India.
Was the spotlight then on Ashraf or Kodaikanal?
I’d like to believe in the McLuhan equation that the medium is the message. Although the video made Ashraf an overnight sensation, a study of 1,000 comments on the YouTube video shows that a majority of the responses were in support of justice for Kodaikanal, with support pouring in from Croatia to Mauritius to New York.
It even received a mention by Nicki Minaj, whose song “Anaconda” it was based on. (Minaj had earlier lashed out at critics when “Anaconda” had failed to get a nomination at the 2015 VMA awards as it “had no impact on popular culture”.)
Unilever CEO, Paul Polman, usually active on social media about Unilever’s efforts regarding Corporate Social Responsibility, lay silent as a barrage of tweets accusing him of being callous and a hypocrite flooded his Twitter handle.
It is clear that the video influenced all the tweets – they use the words “Clean up your mess”, a line repeated many times in the music video.
It was only a week after the video launch that Paul Polman took to Twitter to refute claims.
This is the first time Polman has commented on the Kodaikanal issue in the 10 years that several activist groups have been fighting this issue.
An email sent by David Babbs of the 38 Degrees activist group, after meeting with Unilever executives in London reads as such:
I’ve just got back from meeting senior bosses at Unilever’s global HQ in London, to discuss the deadly mercury spill at their factory in India.
As I presented all the petition signatures and thousands of messages from concerned customers, they didn’t try to hide the pressure this was putting on their business. They admitted that our Facebook, Twitter, email and phone messages had been impossible for them to ignore.”
While some may argue that the video went viral only because it piggybacked off a popular song, or featured a pretty young rapper, one cannot take away the impact the music video has made, especially for the Kodaikanal Unilever factory workers who have finally found a way for their voices to be heard.
As U2’s Bono once declared, “Music can change the world, because it can change people”.