They are the must-have accessory for fashion-conscious shoppers who want to be seen carrying home the most exclusive and expensive brands.
But there is a dirty secret behind the glossy paper bags often spotted dangling from the arms of socialites.
Several of Britain’s top fashion brands and makers of luxury goods have been buying these bags from a supplier majority-owned by a company responsible for destroying millions of acres of Indonesian rainforest.
One of the last refuges of the critically endangered Sumatran elephant and tiger is being steadily eroded by Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) to produce cheap, high-quality paper for bags, gift boxes and other designer packaging.
APP is planning to pulp up to 480,000 acres of forest in Jambi province, Sumatra. Environmental groups claim that this will include the site of the only successful reintroduction programme for orang-utans. Alexander McQueen, Marc Jacobs, OKA, H&M Group and Osborne & Little have admitted buying bags from Pak2000, which is majority-owned by APP.
When approached yesterday by The Times, Osborne & Little, a luxury wallpaper company owned by the family of George Osborne, the Shadow Chancellor, said that that it would stop buying bags from Pak2000.
COS, part of H&M Group, said: “We can confirm that we have decided to terminate our business relationship with PAK2000. We do not have any further comments.”
OKA, a home furnishings company co-founded by Viscountess Astor, mother-in-law of David Cameron, the Conservative leader, said it would cease trading with Pak2000 “as soon as possible”.
Alexander McQueen refused to say whether it would continue to use Pak2000 bags. Marc Jacobs declined to answer questions from The Times.
The five companies were among almost 100 clients listed by Pak2000 on its website. Pak2000 removed the list two weeks ago at the request of several clients who had received letters from Rainforest Action Network, a US-based conservation group.
Michael Brune, the network’s director, wrote: “Our research indicates that your company is, we assume unknowingly, contributing to the destruction of endangered tropical rainforests in Indonesia through your procurement of packaging products and shopping bags from PAK 2000.”
Claude Roessiger, Pak2000’s chief executive, said that the company sold 300 million bags a year and 25 per cent of the company’s paper came from Indonesia.
Asked about the source of the 25 per cent, he said: “Either it’s entirely plantation wood or forests which are exploited in a proper plan.”
Mr Roessiger said Pak2000 did not “knowingly” use paper from original rainforest but he could not guarantee that it did not.
The Times tried to contact APP directly but it did not respond to phone calls or e-mails.
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