In the wake of the sexual misconduct drama that unfolded in April when a student of the National University of Singapore (NUS) called out the school for being too lenient on the male student who had filmed her in the shower, local urban farm OnHand Agrarian announced on their Facebook page earlier on 21 April that they would be ceasing all dealings with NUS in response to how the school handled the case.
In the post, it was made clear that the farm would stop all ties with the university until the perpetrator is expelled. “No talks, no internship, no site visits, no use of our company when you need industry partners to be Co-Pls for government grant submissions,” stressed the company.
Following OnHand Agrarian’s announcement, we reached out to owner Hao Fa Lim to ask why they felt it necessary to take such a stance as a business owner. Mr Lim told us that he didn’t want to be associated with companies that do not take invasion of privacy seriously.
When the move was shared by another Facebook page, SMRT Vigilanteh and slammed for being a publicity stunt, Mr Lim said in response that it was merely a PR statement. He added that the rationale behind the decision was “to remove liability and provide working opportunities for their more ethical competitors”.
Members of the public pointed out that the farm ceasing dealings with NUS would adversely affect students, who ultimately are not responsible for the university’s stance. To this Mr Lim said that OnHand Agrarian is still open to internship opportunities with students on a personal capacity. He said, “If NUS refuses to acknowledge those internships simply because Agrarian won’t communicate with their staff, then that’s their prerogative.”
When asked why it was important that a business organisation took a stance on social issues publicly, Mr Lim said, “I think companies are communities and we have stances on social issues regardless of whether we make them known. In this case, making my views known helped reassure my subscribers and give Ms Baey a slightly louder voice.”
Businesses are part of the community
He added that business are themselves tiny communities within the larger community and that many have lost sight of that or have distanced themselves from being socially responsible “because they are lazy”.
“But one of the reasons I started this company was to help people reconnect with our roots. Imagine this happened 70 years ago, when many of our grandparents were farmers themselves and communities were closer, do we honestly think only ONE farm would’ve taken a stand?” he continued.
Another thing that SMRT Vigilanteh had pointed out was that OnHand Agrarian was breaking the law by ceasing dealings with NUS over this matter and attaching the condition that they would only resume dealings if the perpetrator is expelled is akin to extortion.
Mr Lim is certain that his decision is not a threat because he is merely refusing to take action and denying them his resources, “Like someone refusing to eat at a restaurant that serves shark fin,” he says. He added, “Nor is it extortion; because I’m not asking for material goods, services or threatening them.”
Discourse on the issue right now is highlighting the community’s role in not deterring deviant behaviour and failing to hold perpetrators responsible for their action while also blaming the victim when they do speak out. So when a member of the community, in this case a local business owner like Mr Lim of OnHand Agrarian, decides to take a stance, perhaps it’s an example of how the rest of us can hold our institutions accountable in order to build a better society.