This October marks the sixth anniversary of the opening of Rainforest Action Network’s Japan office, spearheaded by our Tokyo-based, activist-ambassador Toyo Kawakami.
Toyo began working for RAN in 2005, campaigning to convince large Japanese paper companies and retailers to stop buying wood chips linked to the destruction of Tasmania’s old growth forests sold by Australian timber giant Gunns Limited. Gunns was the target of widespread opposition in Tasmania due to its clear-cutting of priceless and irreplaceable ancient eucalyptus groves.
Toyo’s efforts to educate large corporate buyers and Japanese banks, arrange Japanese delegation visits to Tasmania, secure contract cancellations, and wrangle media attention added significant pressure to a global campaign that achieved a major victory in 2010 when Gunns Ltd agreed to pull out of native forest logging altogether.
Toyo has now turned his sights to Indonesia, as RAN takes on an even larger and more intractable forest destroyer: Asia Pulp and Paper (APP). Japan is one of the world’s leading markets for paper products, where the use of fiber from Indonesia’s endangered rainforests is rapidly expanding.
Askul, the largest Japanese buyer of APP products, is estimated to purchase over 100,000 tons of paper from APP each year, a contract worth over US$100 million annually. Askul’s president has a reputation for caring about climate change, and the company already has a decent paper policy, but the relationship with APP makes it clear that the company’s paper policy is not being carefully applied. APP papers have possibly the highest carbon footprint in the world due to APP’s use of wood fiber from rainforest destruction and because the company’s pulp plantations are often planted on highly carbon-emissive peat soils.
In part, Askul is relying on the Indonesian Ecolabel Institute (LEI) to certify that the paper it buys is environmentally and socially responsible. But LEI fails to ensure that all of the areas it certifies are maintaining high conservation values, respecting community rights, and are free of social conflict. Furthermore, the fact that both APP and Indonesia’s other leading logging giant and rainforest destroyer, APRIL, sits on its board of directors raises serious questions about whether LEI is independent.
Toyo is working with Askul to begin implementation of its existing policy. This involves encouraging the company to push APP to stop further conversion of natural forests into plantations and to resolve social conflicts created by the company — or risk losing Askul’s very lucrative business.
Japanese culture around environmentalism, business relationships, and conflict is very different than here in the United States, and as a result Toyo is constantly challenged to adapt RAN’s style of market campaigning in ways that can lead to effective outcomes in Japan.
Toyo’s hurdles may be huge, but his track record of talented tenacity and patient perseverance points toward success. RAN is proud to be represented by Toyo as the rainforest’s man in Japan, and we look forward to keeping RAN supporters updated as his work progresses.