Firms' palm oil use: 7,700 e-mails show people care

Firefighters putting out fires in South Sumatra on Aug 6. Palm oil production, when done irresponsibly, leads to deforestation and pollutes water and air, including causing haze. Of the 10 Singapore firms which responded to the WWF survey, six said t
Firefighters putting out fires in South Sumatra on Aug 6. Palm oil production, when done irresponsibly, leads to deforestation and pollutes water and air, including causing haze. Of the 10 Singapore firms which responded to the WWF survey, six said they did not think their customers cared about what kind of palm oil they use.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

13 firms flooded with e-mails after launch of WWF campaign targeting companies

Within nine hours of a World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) campaign launch to pressure firms here into using sustainable palm oil, consumers flooded 13 companies with e-mails.

Prior to launching the #IBuyICan pressure campaign yesterday at 8am, WWF had approached 27 Singapore and 20 Malaysia firms for a survey.

The 47 companies contacted were picked based on market share, brand prominence, regional presence, supply chain impact and use of palm oil.

WWF wanted to know about the firms' palm oil practices, such as targets they may have for switching to only sustainable sources of palm oil.

But only 10 local and six Malaysian companies responded.

And most of the local firms indicated that consumers here did not care if palm oil comes from sustainable sources.

That is when the #IBuyICan campaign to pressure the firms kicked in. By 5pm, on the same day of the launch, the senior management of 13 local companies had received more than 7,700 e-mails from consumers.

There was one clear message: Consumers do care.

Palm oil production, when done irresponsibly, leads to deforestation, affects wildlife, and also pollutes water and air, including causing haze. WWF had surveyed the firms from April to June this year and used a global Palm Oil Buyers' Scorecard that the group does each year to track what companies are doing to prevent the negative impacts of palm oil production.

Among the firms contacted were Ayam Brand, Wildlife Reserves Singapore Group, Sheng Siong and Malaysia's Mamee Double-Decker.

Of the 10 Singapore companies which responded, six said they did not think their customers cared about what kind of palm oil they use. Seven said the cost of sustainable palm oil was a barrier for them.

The WWF then contacted the remaining companies to tell them about the campaign.

By Wednesday night, the day before the campaign, four of the 17 companies which did not respond earlier - Tung Lok, Commonwealth Capital, Super Group and Bee Cheng Hiang - pledged that they will act towards using sustainable palm oil.

The 7,700 e-mails were finally directed at the 13 remaining firms.

WWF chief executive Elaine Tan said the pledges by the four firms were a starting point.

"This allows us to take the first steps with them to be transparent by setting a time-bound public commitment and taking the first steps to sourcing sustainably."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 22, 2017, with the headline 'Firms' palm oil use: 7,700 e-mails show people care'. Print Edition | Subscribe