4/2017 Signs of the Times

by Tan Thiam Hock

Saturday, 18 February 2017

I WILL start my 100th article by thanking the past and present managing directors of Star Media Group for sparing precious space in this paper for this amateur columnist to indulge in storytelling from past experiences. I would also to thank the editors of StarBizWeek for their guidance and handholding since 2011 when my first article appeared.

I am thankful to the readers of this column for their encouragement, although I have to admit, most of the readers are from my Generation X.

Since young people do not read newspapers anymore, my son helped me archive these articles in my blog, thiamhock.com and is now helping me to share the articles via Facebook. Like an old business, I struggle to stay relevant with the millennials of today, muddling through their fast pace lifestyle and trying to make sense of technological disruptions happening as we speak.

Much has happened in Malaysia since 2011. We have made headlines in world news quite frequently and mostly for all the wrong reasons.

Thankfully, we have a well balanced economy with strong exports of commodities and manufactured goods. Our domestic consumption is buoyed by the growing middle class across all races and local businesses are more resilient compared to the last financial crisis.

Malaysia should have been a well developed country by now as we are blessed with an abundance of natural resources, including oil, well strategised economic development plans since 1970 and a harmonious and industrious society. Instead, we are faced with major political challenges internally, potential disruption of our federal constitution, a bloated government and civil service, and a growing national debt.

To add to our woes, certain politicians are using the race and religion card to consolidate their power base at the expense of national unity and the harmonious existence between all races.

As a citizen, I am greatly concerned with these developments which look like a very slippery slope towards a failed state. As an entrepreneur, I am trying to understand new consumer needs and new regulations from the authorities.

As Malaysia is a 65% majority Muslim market, any entrepreneur worth his salt would not want to miss out on this market.

As a non-Muslim, it is difficult for me to understand the Muslim consumer psyche and as such, I am normally behind in the fast changing purchasing trends of the Muslim market. As an example, the need to cover up has created a huge market for hijab wear which later transformed into hijab fashion endorsed by local celebrities.

I used to think halal certification was mainly for food and restaurants but from recent events, it seems to involve names of food, birthday cakes and now paint brushes.

What piqued my interest was why a domestic trade enforcement team raided non-Muslim hardware stores across the country and confiscated the paint brushes which is supposedly made from pig bristles.

The charges against the hardware store was for a variety of reasons – non-separation of non-halal brushes on display shelves from other brushes, no non-halal signage displayed etc.

So I googled the domestic trade portal and sure enough, there is a Trade Description Order 2013 which states that any item made of any part of a pig or dog must be displayed separately from other stuff inside the business premise. It must be labelled – Made of Pig/Made of Dog or any label that have the same message and it must be displayed.

The label must be in the national language or alongside other translated languages and the label must not be less than 10mm. There is no mention of the need to put a halal or non-halal label in this Trade Description Order 2013.

Punishment if found guilty, are fines of up to RM100,000 or jail for up to three years, or both. For a corporate body, fines of up to RM250,000 will be imposed.

This Trade Description Order has been in force since 2011 so business owners cannot claim ignorance.

The Trade Description Act 1972 was repealed and replaced by the Trade Description Act 2011 which incorporated legal provisos pertaining to halal matters.

Trade Description (Definition of Halal) Order 2011 and Trade Description Certification and Markings of Halal 2011 were approved by Parliament and came into force in November 2011.

Entrepreneurs and businesses should read these two Acts carefully as the punishment for non-compliance is heavy.

After reading these two Acts, I could understand the reasons behind the recent commotion on the insistence on halal birthday cakes to be allowed into any McDonald’s outlet. If McDonald’s restaurants are to be certified as halal by Jakim, they should not allow any non-certified halal cakes into their premises. As a business entity, McDonald’s requires the halal certificate so it is their choice. Just like some restaurants that forbid you to bring outside food/ drinks into their restaurants. So, no issue.

The issue with Aunty Anne’s hot “dog” is also because of the certification requirement of the restaurant. In this case even though it is a halal grilled beef or chicken sausage wrapped in a bun (hence the name hot dog), Jakim felt that it was inappropriate to have the word “dog” displayed at the counter.

Even though it is not stated in the Trade Description Act that you cannot name a hot dog, “hot dog”, Jakim as the certification body can refuse to issue the certificate as it deems fit. So if Aunty Anne’s main customers asked for a halal certificate before they purchase, then it is a no brainer to change the name to hot sausage.

The use of “halal” description is voluntary under current legislations. Basically you do need to apply for halal certification if you do not want to. But you have to read the Act carefully, especially the clause that says “when food and goods are described as halal or are described in any other expressions to be consumed or used by a Muslim, such expressions mean that …”

My non-legal mind tells me that even if there is no halal sign displayed, “any other expressions” that can mislead the Muslims into buying your food or goods will also get you on the wrong side of the Trade Description Act.

Among the most obvious is the signage of No Pork/No Lard signages on restaurants.

The enforcement officers use this clause to act against the restaurant legally and Jakim has explained that no pork does not mean the restaurant is halal.

When the officers explained that this might confuse the Muslim consumers, it is basically their interpretation on the clause of “any other expression…” This could be a potential problem if you have a very religious officer interpreting messages without a guideline. I hope the authorities will help clarify this section so that there will be no unfortunate misunderstandings in the future.

My advice to entrepreneurs is simple and straight forward. Follow the law of the land.

It does not matter whether you want to be in or out of the halal business, the Trade Description Act 2011 is very clear on how you should label your products.

Fund managers will tell you that they make money when there is volatility in the market. If you look deeper into this halal issue pervading our markets, there are plenty of business opportunities out there.

Try googling halal birthday cakes and you get nothing. Zilt. Only Royals from Singapore is making halal cakes. Great opportunity there but you have to get your bakery shop certified halal by Jakim. In addition, you will have to pack a copy of the halal certificate to be presented to McDonald’s or else your cake will not be allowed into their premises.

My contractor friend, Ah Lai, was desperately looking for coconut husk paint brushes in his regular hardware shop. Even though these paint brushes don’t paint too well compared to the usual non-halal brushes, all the coconut husk brushes were sold out. The whole shelf was empty as the non-halal brushes were confiscated.

Just imagine the surge in demand for acrylic signages. You can literally print standard signages like Halal, Non Halal, Not Sure, Confused?, Still Confused? And you will sell out in no time.

All said and done, just follow the law. These are signs of our time.

Published: http://www.thestar.com.my/business/business-news/2017/02/18/signs-of-the-times/

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