By Global Voices
The People’s Movement to Stop Haze (PM Haze) is promoting citizen action to stop haze pollution by convincing restaurant owners in Singapore to use sustainable palm oil in their kitchens.
Haze pollution is a recurring problem in Southeast Asia, mainly caused by deforestation and burning of peat lands in western Indonesia to make way for the expansion of palm oil plantations. This causes haze to descend not only on Riau, Indonesia, but also in the nearby countries of Singapore and Malaysia.
According to PM Haze, more than 50 percent of products in supermarkets contain palm oil, which motivated the group to launch a campaign in 2015 enjoining consumers to boycott companies engaged in unsustainable palm oil production.
This year, PM Haze hopes to “raise awareness among the public and eatery owners about haze-free palm oil” through the #GoHazeFree campaign. The group’s initial research revealed that more than 90 percent of popular restaurant chains in Singapore use palm oil and none are haze-free.
Sustainable palm oil means it is sourced from haze-free plantations. Based on the standards set by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), haze-free plantations “use zero-burning method to clear land, respect land rights and work with local communities to minimize use of fire, protect forests and plant on open land, avoid new planting on peat and properly manage water level in existing plantations on peat, and they have sufficient manpower and equipment to detect and stop fires early.”
This video explains the campaign and how it plans to address “the low awareness of the palm oil issue among both consumer and business owners.”
In an email interview with this author, PM Haze Executive Director Zhang Wen shared the response of some restaurant owners about the #GoHazeFree initiative:
We have reached out to about 70 restaurants in Singapore so far and the majority use palm oil for cooking. However, the awareness of the link between palm oil and haze is extremely low. None of these restaurants know about the sustainable palm oil alternative. Therefore we need to first raise awareness of the issue and then encourage restaurant owners to switch to sustainable palm oil. We found those that are already adopting sustainability messages are more open to our message. One restaurant we reached out to is trying out the sustainable palm oil at the moment and we hope to get their confirmation to switch to “sustainable palm oil only” soon.
Zhang Wen also discussed the appeal of PM Haze to the government and the finance sector. Some banks in Singapore are accused of providing the money to companies that engage in unsustainable palm oil production:
The Singapore National Environment Agency (NEA) made mandatory the green public procurement of paper products earlier this year….We hope the government can discourage consumption of unsustainable/haze-causing palm oil and to encourage sustainable/haze-free palm oil. The Association of Banks in Singapore (ABS) published a responsible finance guidelines in response to the 2015 haze. DBS bank recently also adopted No Deforestation, No Peat and No Exploitation (NDPE) policy for palm oil financing. We hope the other local banks, e.g. OCBC and UOB, can adopt similar policies soon and all banks be transparent of the implementation of these policies and play a more proactive role in safeguarding the air we breathe.
PM Haze has acknowledged that the campaign should target both business owners and especially consumers in raising the demand for haze-free palm oil.
The goal of this outreach activities does not stop at the eateries, but goes beyond into more awareness of the palm oil issue. Palm oil producers will be more motivated if more people demand haze-free palm oil.