ST Forum: Haze in Singapore

10/22/2010. This was not published.
Dear Ms/Sir,
one of the ironies of the haze debate is that some plantation companies who may be benefitting from forest clearing and burning–directly or not–are domiciled in Singapore. By buying their shares, Singaporeans own part of these firms. It is analagous to the situation in Southern China, where Hong Kong firms build factories in Guangdong, earn bumper profits, and (occasionally) get smog in return.
Complaining every year to the Indonesian authorities will only do so much. Better still for Singaporeans to exercise their rights as shareholders and put pressure on these powerful firms. If all else fails, dump their shares. Otherwise, we are all guilty of a great inconsistency: profiting from these companies’ growth, but then blaming an understaffed government for their very actions.
After all, if a firm domiciled in Singapore, and partly owned by Singaporeans, is the one burning forests in Kalimantan, who is actually responsible for the haze: Indonesians? Or Singaporeans?
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5 responses

  1. Hi Sudhir, came across your blog through the post on national conversation. Nice blog!
    I had the same thoughts on the haze.
    All the best with the book launch, I look forward to getting a copy.

    Letter to Straits Times – unpublished

    Mr. Ben Nadarajan rightly pointed out the onus of the Indonesian government to act much more effectively towards the haze situation in Indonesia (Haze: Time for Jakarta to act, Straits Times, 23 Oct 2010). However, there are also ways where Singapore and Malaysia can contribute in apprehending the haze problem from Indonesia.
    Responsibility over the fires leading to the haze each year have been attributed to land-clearing industries such as the oil palm and pulp and paper companies, some of which are Malaysia and Singapore owned. Singapore and Malaysia can do more in auditing the environmental practices of their own companies as well as the environmental footprint these companies leave behind in Indonesia. Considering law enforcement is much higher in these two countries than in Indonesia, it can prove to be more effective if governments stepped in to pressure these companies towards better means of operation and ensuring that future fires from the industry will not happen in Indonesia.
    This trans boundary problem certainly requires transnational effort to identify the individual actors involved and to pressure these actors to clean up their act. The Indonesian government should deal with the smallholders responsible but Singapore and Malaysia can also act in pressurizing local companies to behave more responsibly and leave a smaller ecological footprint in overseas investment and land development plans.

  2. which are the companies who are in the agri, palm and paper business who are directly buying from these places who we can contact and verify – without this sort of information no one can take any action – and it becomes just a speculation….

  3. Thanks for your comments, and it’s interesting to see an unpublished letter from 3 years ago suddenly getting traction. Must be down to Google Search, I presume. All the more weird cos I’m now in India, and only just found out about the haze situation through my wife.

    Anyway, to answer your queries, my initial post was simply a letter to ST Forum. I had not done exhaustive research before writing it, and don’t have the time to now either.

    However, we all know that many Indonesian palm oil companies are listed on SGX. And we also know that several of them have been accused by environmental groups of not doing enough to stem forest clearing/burning. And, finally, we also know that many Singaporeans own shares in these companies.

    Hence my letter in 2010.

    I don’t want to name any names here, because I would need to do more research. But anybody can do some preliminary Googling.

    I think one of the issues–and this is not unique to palm oil–is with the lengths of supply chains, where the final commodity producer may not be that directly involved with the (sometimes) dirty business of land acquisition.

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