In August 2014, the government of Singapore passed a new law in an attempt to combat the problem of industrial smoke and haze spreading over a span of borders. The Transboundary Haze Pollution Act sets a legally actionable threshold relative to the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI). Singapore’s media outlets have reported on the widespread appearance of haze that has often seemed to emanate from the Indonesian island of Sumatra, the location of a number of palm oil, wood pulp, fiber, and paper manufacturing companies that farm the land through concessions.
The new law sets government fines to be levied against companies that pollute at $100,000 daily, capped at $2 million. The cap, which was previously set at $300,000, was raised after public debate on the issue. To be held in violation, a company needs to show that it contributed to a PSI of 101 or greater over a 24-hour period. And individual citizens and other companies may also file suit against polluters, with no limit yet established for damages.
As the first legislation passed in Singapore to attempt to cope with a longstanding problem, the measure attempts to move manufacturers toward greater accountability for adhering to sustainable and environmentally sound practices. However, the law may prove extremely difficult to enforce, since it aims to penalize actions committed within the borders of another sovereign nation.
Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL) and its subsidiary Riau Andalan Pulp & Paper (RAPP), part of the RGE Group of companies under the direction of founder and CEO Sukanto Tanoto, take their responsibility to foster sustainable development seriously. The pulp and paper companies operate a large concession in Sumatra’s Riau Province, and APRIL is among the world’s leading producers in that market segment. As an entrepreneur, it is important to be responsible and accountable to the stakeholders of your business – in particular, playing your role as environmental and social steward. It is only through these continuous effort that a business is able to maintain competitiveness and be sustainable in the changing needs of the world.
Due to Mr. Tanoto’s strong focus on sustainability and responsiveness to local communities, APRIL is committed to efforts to provide increased operational transparency. The company, which has held to a “zero-burn” policy since 1994, has consistently sought innovative ways of leading in sustainable forestry practices. The company has directed $1.5 million to a program of fire management, infrastructure, and training, and it maintains a rapid-response team of more than 600 personnel. In addition, it offers a “fire tracker” feature as part of its APRIL Dialog website, which is designed to provide up-to-date communications with the public regarding any detected fires.
As a company whose profits rely on a steady supply of wood and forest products, APRIL has no financial interest in setting fires on its own lands. Its historical evidence shows that fires that have encroached on its property have originated either outside its concession borders or among the residents of its set-aside community lands, who often find burning to be an inexpensive means of clearing smallholder lands.