Supermarkets should sell sustainable palm oil

Last year, NTUC FairPrice was one of the supermarkets which pulled products from a haze-linked company off their shelves.

One year on, we are delighted that FairPrice has shown it was not a one-off act by launching its sustainability report and committing to be "the most socially responsible supermarket".

Supermarkets are well positioned to play a transformational role in society by helping consumers make better, more informed choices.

Consumers overwhelmed by the variety of products may overlook a product's impact on their health, environment and society.

Retailers can simplify these choices by ensuring that their house-brand products lead the way in maximising health, environmental and social benefits while minimising cost.

FairPrice already has its house-brand paper products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. Palm oil should be next.

Huge swathes of forests in Malaysia and Indonesia are being cleared to grow oil palm trees, sometimes with fire.

Currently, palm oil certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is the closest to being haze-free.

Yet, major supermarket chains in Singapore sell house-brand palm oil cooking oil that is uncertified.

Without certification, there is no way of telling if the palm oil came from a responsible grower using zero-burning methods.

FairPrice can lead the way by being the first to switch to RSPO-certified palm oil for its house-brand cooking oil.

Responsible consumerism is often a chicken and egg problem, with the lack of consumer awareness leading to the lack of consumer demand for such products.

Retailers, however, can break this cycle by using information panels and videos to help shoppers understand why their consumption choices matter.

The information provided can go beyond the haze into topics such as healthy eating and problems with packaging waste.

A cleaner, more liveable environment ultimately benefits low-income families the most, as they suffer disproportionately from the cost of a poor environment.

For example, families on a tight budget cannot afford air purifiers and air-conditioning, leaving them more exposed to health impacts from the haze.

By cultivating responsible consumers and providing responsible products, FairPrice can, therefore, create a virtuous circle that is good for people, planet and profit - while serving its social mission of lowering the cost of living, in more ways than one.

Tan Yi Han


People's Movement to Stop Haze

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 08, 2016, with the headline 'Supermarkets should sell sustainable palm oil'. Print Edition | Subscribe