See More on Facebook

Business, Environment

Three companies with offices in Singapore linked to forest fires causing haze

Haze has closed thousands of schools across Southeast Asia and has been responsible for several deaths.


Written by

Updated: September 25, 2019

The haze is back. And as forest fires rage on in Indonesia, a Singapore connection has surfaced.

Three Indonesian firms with offices in Singapore have been linked to the haze-belching fires.

One company, Hutan Ketapang Industri, sealed off by the Indonesian authorities after fires were discovered on its land, has links to Singapore-based Sampoerna Agri Resources.

The other two – pulp giants Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) and April, have also been linked to the haze-belching fires by Indonesian news site foresthints. Both have offices in the Republic.

Singapore’s National Environment Agency (NEA) said it is monitoring the current haze situation closely, although it has not taken any action against firms under the Republic’s Transboundary Haze Pollution Act this year.

The Act targets those responsible for causing or condoning fires if burning results in unhealthy levels of haze in Singapore – defined as a 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) value of 101 or greater for 24 hours or more.

Those guilty can be fined up to $100,000 a day, capped at a total of $2 million. No fines have been meted out since the law was passed in 2014.

An NEA spokesman said: “NEA is monitoring the situation closely, and will provide updates as appropriate if we commence investigations on any company under the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act.”

In Indonesia, however, concession areas owned by more than 50 companies have been sealed off after fires were detected there.

In Singapore, after days of hazy conditions, rain could bring some relief.

The weatherman said on Tuesday evening (Sept 24) that thundery showers can be expected in Singapore and showers may also occur over Sumatra – where most of the smoke-belching fires are – over the next few days.

However, the NEA said that although recent showers may have helped to improve the haze situation, the hot spot activities in Sumatra are expected to persist, and Singapore may still experience occasional slightly hazy conditions over the next few days if the prevailing winds blow in smoke haze from Sumatra.

At 11pm on Tuesday, the one-hour PM2.5 reading was 19-26 micrograms per cubic m, in the normal range, while the 24-hour PSI reading was 76-90, in the moderate band.

SINGAPORE CONNECTIONS TO THE FIRMS LINKED TO INDONESIA’S FIRES

Three firms with plantations on fire have been singled out by various sources as having offices in Singapore.

On Sunday, Indonesian environmental news site foresthints published an article saying that fires have been detected in APP and April concession areas.

Citing satellite data and information from the Indonesian government, the article said fires had been detected in APP concession areas in Indonesia’s Sumatra and Kalimantan islands.

In Sumatra’s Jambi province, fires had been detected in Wira Karya Sakti (WKS), an APP pulpwood concession area, according to the article. It also said the Indonesian Environment and Forestry Ministry had sealed the concession area in West Kalimantan.

An APP spokesman said there had been hot spots within 5km of its concession boundaries in WKS recently, although there were none at present.

“A large majority were within areas allocated to the community,” said a spokesman.

When a concession area has been sealed off by the Indonesian authorities, the directorate general of law enforcement from the Ministry of Environment and Forestry would start a preliminary investigation and secure all the evidence on the ground with the help of local police, he said.

All APP suppliers must strictly adhere to the company’s no burning policy and fire policies, he stressed.

“Should a supplier be found be not adhering to this, they will be first suspended pending an investigation. If there is sufficient evidence of this practice, the supplier will be terminated immediately.”

The foresthints article also said that one of the April-owned concession areas, as well as that of one of its key suppliers in Sumatra’s Riau province, had also been sealed by the Indonesian government in August due to fires there.

In response, April said that it reports all fires on its concession areas and continues to work with local police in reporting and investigating every fire incident.

“This includes supporting investigations carried out by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry,” said an April spokesman, adding that work is done to protect burnt areas in the concession area from further damage after police investigations.

The third company with links to the haze, and a Singapore office, is Sampoerna Agri Resources.

Earlier in September, Indonesian Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar had named Hutan Ketapang Industri as the Singapore-affiliated firm that was among firms with plantations sealed off by the Indonesian government after fires were detected in their concession areas.

Hutan Ketapang Industri is a West Kalimantan province-based rubber plantation subsidiary of another Indonesian company, Sungai Menang, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Indonesia’s Sampoerna Agro.

Singapore-based Sampoerna Agri Resources owns two-thirds of Sampoerna Agro.

When The Straits Times visited the Haw Par Centre office of Sampoerna Agri Resources on Tuesday afternoon, there were only three staff present.

One of them said the company is different from its parent company in that it is an investment holding company that is not involved in agriculture. The firm did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

A HISTORY OF FIRE

APP and April are no strangers to accusations of fire on their concessions.

As two of Indonesia’s largest pulpwood companies, both have often been implicated in causing the perennial scourge of haze that had long plagued countries in the region.

In 2015, APP, in particular, was singled out for fires on its concession areas.

This prompted the Singapore Environment Council to temporarily suspended the green label of APP’s exclusive distributor in Singapore, Universal Sovereign Trading. Following the suspension, supermarket chains pulled all APP items off their shelves, including popular brands such as Paseo.

The green label was given back to APP in May this year.

SEC said in a statement then that it had awarded APP its enhanced Singapore Green Labelling Scheme certification (SGLS+), which is supposed to be more rigorous than its previous certification requirements for fire and peatland management.

On Sept 19, SEC said that companies certified by SGLS+ are fire-free. It said it determines this by a range of factors, including whether the firms have robust fire management practices in place to quickly suppress fire outbreaks when they occur

“On top of that, we have regular audits and surveillance to ensure that certified concessions continue with best practices,” said the spokesman.

“SEC is confident that the SGLS+ certified concessions are fire-free during this period based on publicly available data/images and on-ground checks.”

A recent check by The Straits Times at multiple outlets of supermarket chain FairPrice revealed no APP products on the shelves.

Asked if it would be carrying APP products again, a FairPrice spokesman said it is committed to making available paper products from sustainable sources.

“FairPrice is continually sourcing for suitable products and will conduct the necessary assessments to enhance our extensive range of paper products,” she said.

She added FairPrice housebrand paper products in stores have attained certification from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which promotes environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial and economically viable management of the world’s forests.



Enjoyed this story? Share it.


About the Author: The Straits Times is Singapore's top-selling newspaper.

Eastern Briefings

All you need to know about Asia


Our Eastern Briefings Newsletter presents curated stories from 22 Asian newspapers from South, Southeast and Northeast Asia.

Sign up and stay updated with the latest news.



By providing us with your email address, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

View Today's Newsletter Here

Business, Environment

Huawei asks US court to overturn ban

The company is suing the FCC, the latest in a series of legal tussles. The legal battle between Huawei Technologies Co and United States government intensified on Thursday. The Chinese tech heavyweight announced a legal challenge to the US Federal Communications Commission, seeking to overturn the latter’s order that bans telecom carriers from buying the company’s equipment via federal subsidies. The move is the latest push by the world’s largest telecom equipment maker to pursue fair competition and treatment amid a slate of restrictions from Washington. Analysts said the FCC ban would have very limited impact on Huawei’s financial performance, but labeling the company as a national security threat would cause far-reaching reputational harm. In a petition filed in the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit on Thursday, Huawei asked the court to declare the FCC order un


By China Daily
December 6, 2019

Business, Environment

Rohingya Crisis Fallout

Transparency International Bangladesh has painted a grim outlook for the crisis. Bangladesh faces long-term financial, political and security challenges as Rohingya repatriation may not happen anytime soon, said Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) Executive Director Dr Iftekharuzzaman. The fund from the international community for nearly one million Rohingyas may not sustain as no strong international initiative has been taken to oblige Myanmar for creating a conducive environment for the refugees to return soon, he said. “As a result, Bangladesh’s socio-economic instability will grow. There are risks of security at local and national levels. The crisis also creates political and diplomatic challenges for the government,” Iftekharuzzaman said. It also involves the risks of growing extremism as the people who face violence are more likely to become violent, he said at a press confere


By Daily Star
December 6, 2019

Business, Environment

Climate Change: Bangladesh 7th worst-hit nation

The country is at risk from cyclones and flooding. Bangladesh is seventh among the 10 countries worst hit by extreme weather events, says a global climate report. Puerto Rico, Myanmar and Haiti top the list which has three South Asian countries and seven Asian nations, according to the Global Climate Risk Index (CRI) 2020 that analysed data from 1999 and 2018. Germanwatch, a Berlin based non-profit environmental research organisation, released the report yesterday on the sidelines of The Conference of the Parties (COP-25) meet in Madrid, Spain. In the previous report that examined data between 1998 and 2017, Bangladesh was at the ninth position. The study looked at four indicators — death toll, number of events, loss of property of each person and loss of gross domestic product. The CRI 2020 is based on the loss figures of 181 countries, it said. The report also said Japan, th


By Daily Star
December 5, 2019

Business, Environment

S. Korean negotiator hopes for ‘win-win’ burden-sharing deal with US

Trump has accused Korea of not paying its fair share of defense costs. South Korea’s top negotiator in defense cost-sharing talks with the United States said Monday that he believes the two sides will be able to strike a “win-win” deal based on their common understanding of the bilateral alliance. Jeong Eun-bo, the top envoy to the Special Measures Agreement negotiations, made the comment upon arriving at Washington’s Dulles International Airport ahead of the fourth round of talks slated for Tuesday and Wednesday. The previous round of talks in Seoul last month was cut short, publicly displaying the rift between the allies over how to share the costs for the stationing of 28,500 American troops in South Korea.


By The Korea Herald
December 3, 2019

Business, Environment

Typhoon Tisoy touches down in the Philippines

The typhoon may affect the Southeast Asian games which is currently underway. Typhoon Tisoy slightly weakened early Tuesday morning as it bears down on Burias Island but it remains strong and destructive, the weather bureau reported. In its 5 a.m. Severe Weather Bulletin, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration said that Tisoy’s eyewall is currently bringing violent winds and intense rainfall over Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Albay, and Masbate. Its eyewall is also expected to affect Southern Quezon, Romblon, and Marinduque in the next three hours. Frequent to continuous heavy to intense (with isolated torrential) rains will be experienced in the Bicol Region, Romblon, Marinduque, Mindoro Provinces, Calabarzon, Metro Manila, Bataan, Pampanga and Bulacan between Tuesday early morning and late afternoon, Pagasa said. Occasional to frequent heavy


By Philippine Daily Inquirer
December 3, 2019

Business, Environment

New parties face drubbing in by-elections as Nepalis continue to vote along party lines

“They failed to convince the voters as to what they would bring to the table if they were given a chance”. Nepalis once again displayed traditional voting patterns as they continued to choose the established parties—Nepal Communist Party and the Nepali Congress—while casting their ballots in Saturday’s by-election, as they snubbed newer parties like Sajha and Bibeksheel. Despite their untiring efforts, focussing primarily on Kaski Constituency-2 in a bid to get a seat in the federal Parliament, both Sajha and Bibeksheel, cut no ice with voters. Both parties have had to fight hard to even secure their deposits, as candidates must garner at least 10 percent of the total votes cast to get back their deposit; a failure to do so is considered humiliating. By-elections were held on Saturday for 52 positions, including a vacant seat in the House of Representatives, three provincial assembly seats


By The Kathmandu Post
December 2, 2019