Asia Pulp and Paper Caught Clearing Rainforest: Credibility of APP Deforestation Moratorium in Doubt

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Indonesian paper giant APP says it wants to change, but, given its track record, the company must prove itself before it can be trusted as a supplier of pulp and paper products. Unfortunately, APP’s four-month-old commitment to stop destroying Indonesia’s rainforests has already been called into question.

WWF Indonesia recently published an open letter to APP’s CEO Linda Widjaja that raises concerns related to documented rainforest logging in APP supplier concessions. The logging is a breach of the paper giant’s public commitment not to clear rainforests starting February 1, 2013. As the story comes to light, it appears that APP may have been misleading paper buyers and the public about what it was actually doing.

This video evidence of APP timber supplier PT Riau Indo Agropalma clearing natural forest in a peat area where APP pledged to impose a moratorium on rainforest clearance was released by Eyes on the Forest:

In response to this evidence of clearing in violation of its highly publicized moratorium on logging, APP has claimed that the area is an “exclusion area” that it had failed to disclose. APP’s admission that it has been clearing rainforests even as it has been telling the world otherwise puts the credibility of the company’s entire “Forest Conservation Policy” (PDF) in doubt.

Ongoing rainforest clearance by APP is a major cause for concern for Rainforest Action Network and many others. We want APP to succeed in its commitments, but to do so it must implement them earnestly and effectively. APP must stop logging rainforests and expanding on peatlands immediately. The company must address its legacy of deforestation and human rights violations, must start protecting and restoring High Conservation and High Carbon Value areas, and must work to resolve and prevent land conflicts while agreeing to remedies with communities that have been adversely impacted by APP and its suppliers.

It’s not just local rainforest communities and wildlife that are impacted by the destruction of Indonesia’s rainforests. Since its founding, APP has cleared and pulped an area of Indonesian rainforest almost the size of Massachusetts. By cutting down forests and degrading peatland, APP spewed an estimated 67 million to 86 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in 2006 alone, putting APP’s annual emissions ahead of those of 165 countries. APP’s forest-clearing operations are contributing a significant amount of greenhouse gas emissions that are driving climate change, and that will affect us all.

This latest revelation about APP clearing rainforest demonstrates that there is still significant risk for consumer companies and investors in associating with APP before the company has proven, through actions, that it is environmentally and socially acceptable. APP’s misleading claims also call into question the trust that can be placed in the company. A clear set of performance targets and milestones is needed so that APP can be held accountable to implementing its commitments before buyers consider renewed purchasing.

Large corporate paper buyers around the world have sent a strong message that it is no longer acceptable to pulp rainforests or inflame land conflicts as the “hidden” cost for the paper they buy. Now that APP has come to the table to reform its bad practices, paper buyers must insist on transparency, honesty and independent verification, not just another round of sweet-sounding promises.

8 Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. Scott Poynton says:

    Quite a lot of big statements, assumptions and accusations there Lafcadio. We have a report of a field investigation into this case in draft form and will be publishing it shortly. You and WWF say you want APP’s policy to work yet you seem absolutely desperate to call the company’s credibility into question. I get they have history, but why the desperate rush to nail them? There’s a disconnect there somewhere, a desperate eagerness to shoot people down. Why?

    Let’s see what our report concludes about this case before jumping to too many conclusions. I prefer to understand exactly what happened before making big accusations about people’s commitment and credibility. We’ve already had one major case where WWF made unfounded accusations, let’s understand what happened here. Perhaps we can discuss again once the report is released? People are ready to take constructive criticism on the chin but your and WWF’s rush to shoot seems more in keeping with a strong desire for this effort to fail than any warm words about hoping it will succeed.

  2. Dustin says:

    Curious to see this report. Hope it is not just an attempt to buy time as has been seen in many cases similair to this.

  3. Robin Shepherd says:

    For those not following this story closely, it is worth pointing out that Scott Poynton (if you Google him) is currently working as an advisor for APP, and that would explain why he is defending them. That said, I find myself agreeing with him. Even to a newbie observer of the forestry-products market, it is pretty obvious that RAN and even WWF are looking for new reasons to attack APP. It seems that RAN has resorted to looking for local people who are unhappy with agricultural developments in their backyards in order to make cases against the likes of APP and APRIL. I think that’s a long way from the things that interest the American public, like saving animal habitat and reducing carbon emissions. I would also say that one infraction (if that’s what it transpires to be) in the first four months (the most vulnerable time) across a country like Indonesia by an outlying supplier is pretty good going! I would have expected far more infractions. I know the green NGOs providing a policing service for the forestry industry are an essential part of this “game,” but it’s not always easy to understand how they choose their targets or the standards they advocate. Those two fundamental points might be their weakest points. It raises suspicions of financially driven allegiances. For example, I do not understand why the likes of International Paper get off so lightly. Is it because they’re local? Is it because they’re a GFTN member? It’s certainly not for their forestry practices. Whatever the reason, the pending lawsuit against Greenpeace by Resolute for $5 million in damages for lost business relationships (after Greenpeace apologized for its unfounded attacks) is a reminder that all the green NGOs need to have their facts right before launching into a campaign, if for no other reason than self-preservation. They also need to keep to the stories and keep to a level that interest the public. After all, the public is their real leverage not their personal opinions.

  4. Scott Poynton says:

    Robin,

    Just to say…I don’t feel that I’m defending APP here, or that my comments are in any way conflicted because I am advising APP. I would just like to see some balance in comments and articles. I want to see the Forest Conservation Policy work and if there have been mistakes, we use them to improve process. A mistake doesn’t mean the policy or company have lost all credibility. The company’s response to a mistake is a better measure. If they use it to improve process and implementation, great. If they ignore it, then yes, call their credibility into question.

    I repeat again, let’s see what the report says. If it finds a mistake, then let’s judge the company’s response to that, not that there was a mistake in the first place. After all, we all make mistakes…don’t we?

    And for Dustin, the report will be out next week I believe. It has taken time to produce because a team from TFT and local civil society went to the field to investigate and they have been working to compile the report. It is now being translated into English.

    Indeed, this whole process is exciting – local civil society working with a company to identify and correct problems. We should be celebrating that and I believe congratulating APP for opening itself like this. It’s a revolution in transparency.

    My hope is that this model of company-NGO interaction can be spread more widely and become a much more positive approach to verification than “independent 3rd party auditing” by auditors paid by the company they’re auditing – doesn’t sound so independent or 3rd party really.

  5. Lafcadio Cortesi says:

    @Scott, thank you for your comments. No one wants to see APP’s commitment to end deforestation and respect rights be thoroughly and successfully implemented more than us at RAN. At the same time, we have been burned so many times before by broken promises and misleading statements from APP that we feel it is crucial that the story being told to paper consumers and the public be balanced and measured, which at times right now it does not seem to be.

    Too much praise coming too fast before APP’s performance is verified and maintained over time could give the impression to potential customers that civil society thinks APP has done enough and it is now safe to buy from APP.

    We think APP’s still-recent history of devastating practices and failed commitments need to be remembered and addressed, not just forgotten, if APP is to succeed in its reform efforts and be trusted by the marketplace. We look forward to reviewing the investigation and continuing the dialog.

  6. baptiste says:

    Hello,
    Does anyone know how many pallets are used for the banana market every year ?
    If not, would should I ask ?
    I am doing a research for College, that would be really helpful.
    Thanks a lot.

  7. ChinHock Ooi says:

    Is APP involved in the buring n haze now happening in Sumatra, Malaysia and Singapore ?

  8. Evelyn says:

    Scott: Is the report available and would you be able to include the URL to the report in your response? Thanks!

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