This morning, activists took to the streets of New York for the second time this summer, calling on Ralph Lauren to be a leader for communities and the forests they depend on. As Ralph Lauren shareholders gathered at the swanky St. Regis Hotel in midtown Manhattan for the company’s annual general meeting, they were greeted by activists handing out copies of RAN’s latest report, “Lessons from the Incense Forest” and asking them to bring this important issues to the leadership inside the meeting.
“Lessons from the Incense Forest” details the struggles of the people of Pandumaan-Sipituhuta in North Sumatra, on the frontlines of human rights abuses and forest destruction for rayon, viscose and other wood-based fabrics. For over 13 generations, these communities have relied on the sustainable harvest of the resin from the benzoin tree, which not only provided a lucrative livelihood for the community, but maintained the forest ecosystem.
The community of Pandumaan-Sipituhuta has rights to the forest that have been recognized by the former colonial government, by traditional law, and by all neighboring communities. Still, in 2009, the Indonesian government ignored those rights and authorized pulp and paper company Toba Pulp Lestari (TPL) to operate on 4,100 ha of community-owned forest. TPL has subsequently begun to convert this land to mono-crop eucalyptus plantations, destroying not only the community’s livelihood, but damaging priceless habitat and a local river on which the community relied. While the community has been active in leading the fight to protect their land, including facing violent police intimidation, they still have not been able to reach their goal - legal rights recognized by the Indonesian government.
While these abuses may be happening far away from Ralph Lauren’s shareholder meeting in New York City, these places are woven together through the very thread of clothes Ralph Lauren sells. RAN activists brought this community’s story to Ralph Lauren shareholders and urged them to make Ralph Lauren a leader on forests and human rights. Amid rush hour in Manhattan, activists engaged shareholders on this critical issue and the potential risk it poses to Ralph Lauren. The group encouraged them to hold the company accountable by asking questions inside the meeting, including what steps it plans to take to ensure that it keeps land-grabbing and other human rights abuses out of its supply chain.
The message stopped many New Yorkers in their tracks. While the idea of forests being processed into fabric is still new and surprising to some, people are supportive of the goal — protecting forests and the people who rely on them — when they learn more. This isn’t a new experience, as every time we’ve gone out to talk about Ralph Lauren’s ties to deforestation, we have the same positive response and the occasional supportive thumbs up or fist pump. Also encouraging was the willingness of shareholders to engage on the issue and to consider the information in the report — demand was so high that the activists handed out all 50 copies of the report that we brought to the event! People also asked thoughtful questions about the destruction and abuses happening on the ground. The best part? We’re confident that the report made its way inside.
Fashion companies like Ralph Lauren can and should take the lead, and become a part of the solution by standing up for communities like Pandumaan-Sipituhuta. It’s time for Ralph Lauren and the Fashion 15 to take action by developing and implementing strong wood-based fabrics procurement policies. Injustices like those happening in Pandumaan-Sipituhuta should never be part of the supply chain.
Will you help amplify this message to Ralph Lauren? Click here to demand that Ralph Lauren be a leader for forests and communities.