Almost six months after the release of its Sustainable Forest Management Policy, Asia Pacific Resources International Ltd (APRIL)—the second-largest Indonesian pulp & paper company—continues business-as-usual rainforest destruction, betraying the spirit and substance of its policy.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported in May that APRIL-owned PT RAPP cleared massive swaths of carbon-rich peatlands on Pulau Padang, an island off the Sumatran coast that APRIL promised to help restore. Members of island community Desa Bagan Melibur have called on APRIL to terminate operations on their community land, and Desa Bagan Melibur’s May 17 protest is the most recent clash in a stark legacy of land disputes between APRIL and Padang’s thirteen villages since 2009.
Pulau Padang’s peatlands store millions of tons of carbon and are home to endangered species and communities that depend on these forests for their livelihoods. You could also say the island itself is endangered: decaying peat causes the low-lying island to subside, and scientists warn that if no action is taken, Padang may very well be under sea level and useless for any type of cultivation by 2050.
APRIL’s forest policy itself is rife with loopholes and allows APRIL to continue slashing natural forests in its concessions through December and source rainforest fiber until 2020. Yet the company’s refusal to uphold even its weak policy commitments brings APRIL’s intentions entirely into doubt. In addition to the Pulau Padang case, earlier this year, APRIL suppliers were caught clearing natural forests on legally protected peat land in Borneo and high conservation value forest on peat land in Riau. In the latter case, not only were internationally protected ramin trees cut down, but APRIL supplier PT Triomas allegedly attempted to hide the evidence by burying the contraband logs.
There is mounting recognition that APRIL’s policy and actions are insufficient and not credible. Last Friday, RAN and an international collation of allies co-authored a letter highlighting the severe shortcomings in APRIL’s policies, such as the lack of a moratorium on natural forest and peat land conversion, unclear commitments on resolving social conflicts, and the policy’s narrow scope, which does not extend to cover APRIL’s sister companies within owner Sukanto Tanoto’s rogue cartel of companies, such as Toba Pulp Lestari, Sateri, and Asian Agri. The letter also points to the inadequacy and questionable credibility of the Stakeholder Advisory Committee (SAC) APRIL set up to help develop, implement, and monitor the forest policy in a transparent and independent manner.
APRIL’s new policy and the SAC risk being nothing but a parade of environmental lip service built on teetering scaffolds of environmental destruction, social conflict, and corruption. Customers and financiers must cut ties with APRIL and other companies owned by Sukanto Tanoto and pressure APRIL to end rainforest clearing and respect community rights.
We don’t get to do this as often as we would like. Today, we get to share some good news with you. Thanks to your hard work and support over the past four years, the world’s top publishers are moving in the right direction when it comes to eliminating rainforest destruction, human rights violations, and species extinction from their supply chains.
We’re publishing A New Chapter for the Publishing Industry: Putting Promises into Practice today, which outlines the shift in the entire sector as the implementation of publishers’ Indonesian forest commitments proceeds. Given the progress that publishers have undertaken in the last four years (since our 2010 report), we can confidently say that you have successfully prodded the 10 biggest publishers—and hence the whole industry—in the right direction. Click here to read the new report.
To really illustrate the point, we are pleased to tell you about two recently announced paper policies from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Macmillan. These policies go farther, in many ways, than past commitments from other companies. They demonstrate a new level of thoughtfulness and attention to detail—and a fierce commitment to eliminating controversial fiber and suppliers in order to protect the forests facing the greatest threats. Over the last four years, RAN has worked closely with publishers to develop and innovate the best practices for eliminating controversial fiber and suppliers from supply chains, and verifying and implementing forest commitments. What has emerged is a set of best practices (spelled out in the report) that could guide companies--not just in paper but in many forest commodities--in tracing their supply chains and protecting forests in the process. Of course, there’s still work to be done.
In order to translate this work to change on the ground, publishers should urge all of their supply chain partners to develop and implement strong, comprehensive paper policies. And, in particular, all companies should either stop buying (or maintain their no-buy stance) on controversial Indonesian pulp and paper giant APRIL and all affiliated companies.
Of course, this transformative work would never have been possible without you. While much of this work has happened behind the scenes, you were with us every step of the way through your commitment to RAN and its work.
Why Indonesian Rainforests?
When taking a birds-eye view of the three major tropical rainforests in the world, Southeast Asia’s rainforests, and those found in Indonesia in particular, are ground zero for biodiversity loss, exploitation of forest peoples, and climate emissions from deforestation. Containing the largest expanse of rainforest in all of Asia, Indonesian rainforests are home to hundreds of distinct groups of forest peoples with their own Indigenous languages and over 3,000 animal species including critically endangered Sumatran tigers, pygmy elephants, java rhinoceros and orangutans. As recently as the 1960’s, about 80 percent of Indonesia was forested, but with one of the highest deforestation rates in the world, less than half of the Indonesia’s original forest cover remains. The main drivers of deforestation and land grabs from forest peoples in Indonesia are the forest products industry - including pulp and paper and other forest products like plywood - and oil palm plantations. These products are mainly produced to feed international demand for these commodities. Although estimates vary, studies suggest that about one million hectares (2.4 million acres) of Indonesian rainforest is cleared and lost each year, with about 70% occurring in forests on mineral soils and 30% on carbon-rich peatland forests. The scale of destruction of Indonesia’s rainforests is having globally significant impacts on the climate system. Indonesia’s rainforest and peatland ecosystems store billions of tons of carbon, and their destruction releases huge emissions into the atmosphere. Indonesia is now the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gasses after the U.S. and China. However, unlike these nations whose emissions are largely due to burning fossil fuels, 80% of Indonesia’s emissions profile is from rainforest and peatland degradation and loss.
Why Pulp & Paper?
Pulp from cleared rainforests and the pulp wood plantations that replace them is made into cheap copy paper, books, tissue, packaging, toilet paper and even luxury shopping bags. It is also used to make rayon, a fabric found in a wide array of clothing and apparel and sold to consumers in the United States, Europe and Asia. Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) and Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL), Indonesia’s largest and second largest pulp and paper companies, have historically been responsible for most of the rainforest loss from pulp and paper. Asia Pacific Resources International Limited and its affiliates like Toba Pulp Lestari, which makes pulp for rayon, are clear cutting and draining huge areas of Indonesia's diverse rainforests and peatlands. These logging giants then convert the degraded land into monoculture acacia and eucalyptus pulp wood plantations to make paper products and apparel. This deforestation is devastating communities and their livelihoods and driving species like the Sumatran tiger toward extinction. The Indonesian pulp and paper sector is one of the biggest threats to the remaining large peatland and natural forest landscapes in Sumatra and Borneo. Market and investor pressure and public profile are helping to catalyze shifts in Indonesia’s political economy by pushing private and government pulp and paper sector interests to develop alternative business models. These models prevent further conversion of rainforests and peatlands to pulpwood plantations, respect and uphold the land and human rights of forest communities, and remedy the legacy of rights violations and deforestation caused by the industry.
Last week the former governor of Riau province in Sumatra, the epicenter of deforestation in Indonesia, was sentenced to 14 years in prison by Indonesia’s anti corruption court for taking bribes for illegally issuing logging permits to nine suppliers of APRIL’s Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper and APP’s Indah Kiat mills. This conviction follows similar convictions of Riau’s Palalawan and Siak district regents (Bupatis).
This week a diverse and influential civil society network called the “anti forest-mafia coalition” released an in depth and ground breaking analysis of the Indonesian “Forest Legality Verification System” (SVLK) finding flaws in the SVLK standard and its application and detailing sweeping changes required for the system to be credible and contribute to improved forest governance in Indonesia.
The SVLK timber legality assurance system comes out of an agreement between the EU and Indonesian governments aimed at improving forest governance and ensuring that Indonesian forest products are produced, harvested and shipped in compliance with the laws and regulations of Indonesia. SLVK certification is intended to assure forest products (wood, paper, etc.) customers and trading partner governments that products are legal and to secure access to foreign markets. In Europe, the intention is that SVLK certified products gain automatic access to the market. In the US, SVLK certification will not provide a guarantee that forest products imported into the US will meet the requirements of the Lacey Act.
Nevertheless, Indonesian forest product companies like APRIL and their customers are already promoting their SVLK certification and hoping that SVLK will fulfill the due diligence requirements of the Lacey Act. However, given systemic governance problems and recent revelations from Indonesia, such assertions are premature. In fact, the anti forest-mafia coalition’s report, and the long list of forest crime cases being considered by Indonesia’s Anti Corruption Commission (KPK) suggests that the Riau former governor’s crimes are just the tip of the iceberg. The Riau convictions and the anti forest-mafia coalition’s report are a wake up call for governments, customers and investors alike. Forest governance in Indonesia and the SVLK certification system still have a long way to go before they can provide confidence in the rule of law or any assurance that it is being implemented and enforced.
The message to customers, investors and importing governments in the EU, Japan, China, the US and around the world is that Indonesian forest products are rife with legal risks and links to corruption and that the current SVLK system does not provide adequate assurance that products are legal or produced in an environmentally or socially responsible manner.
The message to the Indonesian government and producers is that they must tackle corruption, improve forest governance, laws and enforcement and revamp the SVLK standard and its implementation if they are to be trusted and preferred in the international marketplace.
Encouragingly, there is good news that Indonesians and the international community alike can take heart in and support amidst these sobering reports.
First, the Riau prosecutions themselves demonstrate the importance and success of Indonesia’s Anti Corruption Commission (KPK), an institution that is repeatedly demonstrating its integrity, veracity and worth in the face of significant opposition from many powerful interests that it threatens. And second, last week, perhaps the nation’s most well known and important political reformer for clean and improved government and the rule of law, Joko Widodo (or Jokowi as most know him), officially announced his candidacy as presidential candidate in the upcoming elections in July.
At a general level, we urge that APP inform its direct (“owned”) and indirect (“independent”) suppliers that it will stop purchasing from any suppliers that: • Do not respect the rights of affected communities to the ownership and control of their titled and customary lands and to give or withhold their Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) to proposed developments on their lands as expressed through their own freely chosen representatives; • Have failed to resolve social conflict and human rights violations with affected communities to the mutual satisfaction of affected parties; • Evict communities with land claims in concessions and consider CSR activities as adequate and final resolution of conflicts • Do not place a moratorium on logging and natural forest clearance until High Conservation Values have been identified and maintained, and; • Continue to clear and drain areas of peat soil or convert High Carbon Stock ForestRAN has been working with leading businesses, civil society and local communities to get APP—which is one of the two biggest pulp and paper companies operating in Indonesia, along with Asia Pacific Resources International (APRIL)—to own up to and change how it does business, and it must do so before going forward with its expansion plans. APP could use its position in the industry to effect real and positive change, which is exactly what we're urging the company to do:
We ask that APP inform its suppliers that it will only be able to purchase wood from them if they follow the same human rights and environmental commitments that we suggest APP take on itself.You can download the letter as as PDF, or read it here: