Call for legal action, boycott to tackle haze

Sarah Oh
AFP News/Subek - Each year Indonesia irks its neighbours Malaysia and Singapore with a thick haze from it forest fires, many deliberately lit to clear land for agriculture

As Singapore and other regional countries remain shrouded by haze due to the raging forest fires in Indonesia, participants at a forum urge consumer boycott and more legal action against parties involved in causing the problem.

The People’s Forum on Haze, which was held on Saturday (24 Oct) at the Singapore Institute of Management, saw representatives from various educational institutions and non-government organisations discuss ways to combat the persistent haze.

Benjamin Tay, a PhD student at the National University of Singapore who conceived the forum, said Singaporeans must play an active role in tackling the haze instead of merely accepting the status quo.

“Singapore’s social and political culture is pretty conservative, so we need to initiate an engagement with the government for the sake of our future generations” and help eradicate the haze problem, he said.

Benjamin Tay, a PhD student at the National University of Singapore

Greater involvement of the citizenry would give more bite to recent measures by government agencies and industry players in Singapore to bring companies to task for being involved in starting the fires in Indonesia.

The National Environment Agency began legal action under the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act (THPA) last month against Singapore-listed Asia Pulp and Paper Group (APP) and four other Indonesian firms that were reportedly behind the burning.

In a significant step taken by Singapore businesses against an errant company linked to the haze, supermarket chains NTUC, Sheng Siong and Prime removed APP’s products from their shelves earlier this month.

Beyond these actions, Professor Ang Peng Hwa, co-founder of Haze Elimination Action Team (HEAT), said consumer boycotts can also have the powerful effect of punishing entities that do not abide by acceptable environmental standards.

“We have a role to ensure these people are motivated to comply,” he said.

HEAT is a group that seeks to find viable solutions for the haze problem, including suing errant companies under the THPA. It hopes to discuss with the relevant authorities to initiate legal suits against such companies.

Professor Ang Peng Hwa, co-founder of Haze Elimination Action Team (HEAT)

Louise Wood from World Wildlife Fund Singapore, however, proposed more corporate transparency and sustainability-based consumerism. The communications manager at the wildlife conservation group cited the example of Swedish furniture giant IKEA, which buys only timber and palm oil from sustainable sources.

With the haze having reached as far as Thailand and the Philippines in recent weeks, and projected to last until early next year, the call by the participants at the forum for more action by Singaporeans to tackle the environmental conundrum assumes greater urgency.