Insight - Let’s keep religion and politics out of business

Halal issue: File photo of a halal food festival in Penang. Halal is a recognition of the status of a product or service, and should not be further differentiated into the type of ownership of the company or producer

A campaign in support of Muslim-made products came under the media spotlight last September, with certain quarters calling for a boycott of halal products made by non-Muslims.

It began as a call for Muslims to be more vigilant about halal, or syariah-compliant, products and services.Lately, another online movement has emerged.

This time urging for the introduction of a new colour scheme for the halal logo.

Such an initiative, if entertained, would hurt the development of the national economy, particularly the government’s effort to nurture a business-friendly environment.

This is not at all productive for the economy, hence the campaign should be called off.

We, the SME Association of Malaysia, are of the view that any initiative that mixes political and religious factors with the halal certification process for businesses is going to jeopardise the economy and will set a bad example for future procedures.

Some netizens who support the “Buy Muslim First” (BMF) movement have recently started another online movement, the “Malaysia halal logo change” campaign.

They have created the halal logo in three different colours - green, orange and purple, each representing 100% Muslim-owned companies, mixed-ownership of Muslim and non-Muslim companies, and 100% non-Muslim-owned companies, respectively.

These netizens have pointed out on social media that more and more Chinese business owners have obtained the halal certificate, and hence, this division of types of companies is meant to assist Muslims so as to not be confused by the products manufactured by Muslim and non-Muslim companies.

Based on the statistics, about 60% to 70% of the halal certificates are owned by non-Muslim companies.

They are mainly involved in the food manufacturing and beauty industries.

These companies have applied for the halal certificate to show that they meet the requirements and standards set out by the government.

This is similar to businesses acquiring the ISO certifications for their products and services.

The halal certification is a standard

to show that the process of the food production and services is carried out according to proper procedures, and

thus, these products and services are safe to be consumed.

This is to assure the consumers of the safety and cleanliness of the products and services.

In this regard, the halal certification is not merely for a religious element.

We must understand that Malaysia is a multi-ethnic society, and all of us have a right to enjoy certain freedoms in the country.

It is not a wise act to demarcate Muslims and non-Muslims, particularly in the business space.

Differentiating the halal logo into three different colours is unnecessary, as the business community should be seen as one entity.

Halal is a recognition of the status of a product or service, and should not be further differentiated into the type of ownership of the company or producer.

Doing so would only make us a laughing stock in the international market.

The halal market is a part of the business market and it should not be mixed with ethnic issues.

In a country where the people are made up of different races, the government must ensure that products and services comply with the business practices drawn up by the government, while ensuring the rights and needs of the consumers are met.

Whatever the business venture, whether it be in the production of goods or services, it must first not be monopolistic in nature and priority must be given to enable a healthy business climate with competitive prices and quality products and services without ignoring the halal element.

And in all this, there is also a need to protect the rights and choices of the consumers.

Both the “Buy Muslim First” and “Changing Halal Sign” campaigns will lead to racial polarisation.

Instead, we should go for the implementation of the “Buy Malaysian Product” campaign, thus ensuring a competitive business ecosystem and prioritising consumer rights.

Datuk Michael Kang Hua Keong is the national president of SME Association of Malaysia.

Views expressed here are his own.

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