By Chris Soh
After more than seven months since being launched by the Singapore Environment Council (SEC), the number of companies which have to take up the SEC’s Green Label for Palm Oil is still zero.
A check on the SEC’s Green Label website recently showed that no palm oil products have been recently certified till date, more than seven months since the launch of the criteria.
In November 2015, the Singapore Environment Council (SEC) shared with the Straits Times that it would be looking to certify palm oil products from February 2016 under the Singapore Green Labelling Scheme (SGLS).
The development of the new criteria was slated to create greater transparency in the complex supply chain of palm oil products and provide consumers with a seal of endorsement on ethical sourcing.
This is all the more disturbing given the fact that the Indonesian environmental coalition Eyes on the Forest (EoF) released a drone video on 20th September 2016 implicating the role of palm oil plantation company PT Andika Permata Sawit Lestari (APSL) in this year’s forest fires that caused the haze. Indonesia’s Environment Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar condemned the incident, adding that her ministry’s main priority now is an investigation into APSL.
A new report by an international group of environmental campaigners, titled ‘Burning Paradise‘, has found that Korindo — a Korean-controlled, Jakarta-headquartered company is burning land in Indonesia’s remote Papua province to make way for oil palm plantations, and destroying ecologically-valuable land in the process.
The company’s clients, until recently, included palm oil giants Wilmar, Musim Mas, ADM, and IOI. Many of these firms have in recent years adopted strict commitments across their entire supply chain against deforestation, peatland development, and community exploitation.
These companies, which grow and process palm oil, sell the commodity on to consumer goods manufacturers like L’Oreal, Biersdorf, and General Mills, meaning that tainted palm oil could be in widely-used products such as cosmetics and food items.
However, these companies stopped buying palm oil from Korindo when the NGOs behind the report shared evidence of the conglomerate’s destructive practices with them earlier this year.
A Guardian article, https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2015/nov/11/indonesia-forest-fires-explained-haze-palm-oil-timber-burning, summarized that while one-third of the fires in 2015 occurred in pulpwood plantations, a sizable proportion of it occurred in palm oil concessions.
In April 2016, Indonesian President Joko Widodo proposed a halt on granting new land concessions for palm oil plantations claiming that palm oil concessions available at the moment are already adequate and urged producers to concentrate on using better seeds to increase their yields.
Locally, five companies have banded together to encourage more companies to switch to sustainably produced palm oil in June this year.
Named the Singapore Alliance on Sustainable Palm Oil, the group said that it hopes their efforts will reduce the slash-and-burn practices used in the production of palm oil, which results in haze pollution.
The five companies in the alliance are Unilever, Ayam Brand, Danone, IKEA, and Wildlife Reserves Singapore.
Late last year, WWF Singapore launched the successful ‘We Breathe What We Buy’ campaign, which reached more than 20 million people globally. The organisation said that it believes that consumer pressure can persuade companies to change their practices and use sustainably produced palm oil.
More recently, a local environmental NGO group, People’s Movement to Stop Haze (PM Haze), launched a campaign to get restaurants here to go for haze-free palm oil in their kitchens.
This calls into question what the SEC has been doing with regard to promoting the purchase and use of sustainable palm oil, considering the fact that it has not certified a single product since its criteria for products containing palm oil was launched about seven months ago.
Perhaps, the cost of certification per product, which is priced at $1,500, could be a stumbling block for companies looking to certify their products under the SGLS.
The SEC also recently issued a renewed call for consumers to boycott unsustainable manufactured products, pointing to the fact that they have witnessed a ten percent increase in paper, pulp and wood products certified. It didn’t make any mention of palm oil certifications.
In April, the SEC announced a new “SGLS Plus” category, which focuses on pulp and paper manufacturers and mill operators. This category will look at additional aspects such as a firm’s fire mitigation and management practices, management of peatlands, commitment to zero burning, and site surveillance.
The SEC also suspended Asia Pulp and Paper from the use of the Singapore Green Label as a result of notices sent to the company under the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act in October 2015.
However shouldn’t the SEC also be focusing more to rein in the palm oil producers instead of harping on the pulp and paper industry?
Being the leading environmental NGO in Singapore over the last twenty years, one would expect the SEC to be more multi-pronged and proactive in providing solutions to tackle the regional haze issue.