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18% of Asians blame palm oil-using companies for haze finds YouGov survey

Palm oil containing brands

Palm oil-containing brands

Just under a fifth of people surveyed in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, China and Australia earlier this month believe that companies that use palm oil in their products are responsible for the haze, air pollution that has blanketed Southeast Asia in recent months, caused by the burning of forest land to make way for palm oil plantations.

In poll by YouGov of 7,536 people across the region from 17 to 23 November, 18 per cent said they thought palm oil-using companies, which include the likes of Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Mondelez and Kellogg’s, that produce household names such as Oreo’s cookies, Lays crisps and Lifebuoy soap, are responsible for the haze. Most people (63 per cent) said palm oil companies and the Indonesian government (62 per cent) are to blame. The survey did not ask respondents if they felt themselves responsible as consumers of brands containing palm oil.

When asked who was to blame for starting the fires, 58 per cent said the palm oil companies, 48 per cent said farmers and 44 per cent suggested they were caused by the dry weather.

Magnum SingaporeThe big palm-oil buyers have kept quiet during the three-month hazy period, although their role in the issue came to light momentarily in October after Unilever’s ice cream brand Magnum tweeted of a picture of a clear blue sky, an ice cream, and the line “To haze-free days ahead.” The promoted tweet did not receive universal approval, with one reply reading:  “A product containing palm oil using the haze to advertise. What sort of sick joke is this?! An epic fail by Unilever.”

WWF gifGreen groups launched a campaign to pressure palm-oil using brands into switching to sustainably sourced palm oil just before the annual burning started in July. The ‘You breathe what you buy’ campaign asked Singaporeans to sign a petition pledging their support for companies that used haze-free palm oil. The campaign aimed for 50,000 signatures, and has of today has reached just over the 13,200 mark.

The only major PR headache for a corporation involved in the clearing of Indonesian forests this haze season has been Asia Pulp & Paper, whose brands were removed from the shelves of NTUC Fairprice supermarkets in October.

One of the few beneficiaries of the haze were companies who manufacture masks, and make brands such as Totobobo, Respro and Vogmask. More than two thirds (65 per cent) of Indonesian, Malaysian, and Singaporean respondents in YouGov’s survey said they wore masks. Of those who didn’t, 18 per cent said they didn’t think a mask could protect them.

Others to benefit from the haze were television broadcasters and advertisers. Fifty-seven per cent of those asked in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore said that stayed indoors more during the bad air period, a behaviour that did not go unnoticed by StarHub, which ran a ‘beat the haze’ promo for a free pay-TV trial in September. Only 13 per cent claimed that the haze didn’t affect their lifestyle in anyway.

Given the severity of the forest burning pollution in Southeast Asia this year, it’s surprising how many in the region were not aware it happened. Seventy-eight per cent said they are aware of the haze, but 22 per cent said they were not, with the average raised by respondents in countries that were unaffected. Forty-eight per cent of Hongkongers and 44 per cent of Chinese surveyed said they did not know about the haze.

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