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Commodity Chain Analysis and Racialized Space; Kodaikanal's Lost Voice

Authors: Rachel Graham*, University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee
Topics: Economic Geography, Global Change, Human-Environment Geography
Keywords: Commodity Chain Analysis, Critical Race Theory, Global Inequality
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This study aims to unify the literature of global supply chain networks/commodity chain networks (Bair and Werner, 2011; Sheppard, 2015; Werner, 2016) with critical race theories formulated by Pulido (2015; 2017) along multiple scales. I will be using discourse analysis methods to examine newspaper articles and government documents. In so doing, this study chronicles the commodity chain of mercury thermometers produced by Unilever and, in the process, illuminates the profoundly negative socio-environmental impacts of the manufacturing process. Although Unilever has declared that all regulations have been followed on the handling and disposing of mercury, this has been inconsistent with ample testimony from employees who worked at the factory and local activists (Dev, 2015; Jayaraman, 2001; GOI, 2011). Unilever’s CEO, Paul Poleman, continues to insist on Unilever’s commitment to the environment, despite notable media attention and evidence suggesting otherwise (Ismail, 2015; Ashraf, 2015). In short, this study aims to reveal long-lasting damage levied by Unilever on the environment and residents of Kodaikanal, and finally hold this company (and the many others like it) accountable for sacrificing human well-being in pursuit of profit maximization via the production of something as seemingly benign as a thermometer. The implications in this case are striking for the vulnerable and marginalized populations that seem to almost inevitably, and disproportionately, bear the brunt of normalized contaminating practices that go relatively unnoticed in the United States by virtue of the extreme geographic separation between consumers and production processes forged by such globally-expansive companies.

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