Two-thirds of Singapore brands refuse to disclose palm oil usage: WWF report

A truck carrying oil palm fruits passes through Felda Sahabat plantation in Lahad Datu in Malaysia’s state of Sabah on Borneo island. (Reuters file photo)

Only 10 out of 27 Singapore brands willingly disclosed details of their palm oil usage when contacted by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

The remaining 17 companies – which include household names such as Bee Cheng Hiang, BreadTalk, Dairy Farm, Crystal Jade, Khong Guan and Tung Lok – either declined or ignored the WWF’s requests for information, said WWF Singapore in a press release on Thursday (21 September).

While two-thirds of homegrown brands here are not transparent about their palm oil usage, a larger proportion – 78 per cent – do not source sustainable palm oil, said WWF Singapore, citing figures from its Palm Oil Buyers’ Scorecard – Malaysia and Singapore 2017 report.

The scorecard, which assesses the buying and sourcing of palm oil by local retailers, manufacturers and food service brands, is a WWF initiative aimed at promoting transparency in South-east Asia’s palm oil industry. Of the 20 Malaysian companies that were also contacted, only six responded to WWF’s requests.

According to the WWF’s findings, “non-disclosure and lack of action was higher among brands in Singapore and Malaysia” as compared with global brands, with the latter group showing an 80 per cent response rate to the WWF’s queries and 60 per cent having palm oil commitments.

“Singapore is at the heart of a region that supplies 85 per cent of the world’s palm oil. Our local brands need to show leadership by being accountable for their palm oil use and take real action to source sustainably,” said WWF Singapore’s chief executive Elaine Tan. She noted that unsustainable practices in the palm oil industry form the root of the region’s transboundary haze and deforestation problems.

While brands contacted cited internal factors such as capacity issues and higher costs as obstacles to making the switch to sustainable palm oil, the report highlighted that the current cost of doing so starts at less than 1 cent more per litre.

Consumer demand plays a key role in sustainability decisions by brands, but there is also a perceived lack of demand for sustainable palm oil by customers in Singapore, the report added.

(Graphic: WWF)

Local top scorers

The 27 Singapore companies contacted by the WWF were selected based on criteria such as the use of palm oil, market leadership, as well as crowd sourced suggestions from members of the public.

Of those that responded, Denis Asia Pacific – which is behind the Ayam Brand of canned food products – and Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) are leading the pack when it comes to sourcing sustainable palm oil. Both companies are involved in industry-led platforms such as the South-east Asia Alliance for Sustainable Palm Oil (SASPO) while Ayam Brand Singapore uses only certified sustainable palm oil.

Roy Teo, managing director for Ayam Brand Singapore, said, “While our total consumption of palm oil is limited, it is possible to make sustainable choices even when manufacturing in smaller volumes.

“We see this business decision paying off through increased employee satisfaction, higher brand value and new business opportunities in Europe, US and Australia where sustainable palm oil has become a market entry criteria.”

For WRS, the transition to using sustainable palm oil at its F&B outlets was “challenging” but the effort was worthwhile, said Dr Sonja Luz, the company’s director of conservation and research. “The process took months, but it is definitely worthwhile as all of us are convinced that this supports our cause – to protect wildlife and conserve biodiversity,” she said.

Based on its findings, the WWF Singapore launched a campaign inviting consumers to show their support for sustainable palm oil by sending e-mails to brands via palmoil.sg. Since the campaign began, local brands Bee Cheng Hiang, Commonwealth Capital and Tung Lok have made commitments to begin their journey on sustainable palm oil by signing WWF’s pledge, the report said.

“People want to know what goes into the products they buy and the real impact of it. Through this campaign, we hope to demonstrate to popular local brands that their customers want them to do their part in a preventable environmental problem that every person in Singapore experiences,” said Tan.