On Tuesday, Indonesia’s second largest pulp and paper company, Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL), released an updated Sustainable Forest Management Policy. While this policy is notable, especially given APRIL’s recent suspension from the World Business Council on Sustainable Development (WBCSD), it falls far short of what is needed for APRIL to clean up its act. It should also be noted that over the years, APRIL has repeatedly failed to meet similar commitments, raising the possibility that this is simply another PR move to alleviate pressure and scrutiny from consumers and NGO’s.
For years, APRIL has been the subject of controversy related to deforestation and human rights violations, due to ethically dubious business practices on the part of both APRIL and its owner Sukanto Tanoto.
Sukanto Tanoto, an Indonesian business tycoon, is also the head of Royal Golden Eagle International (RGE), and has dealings in palm oil and viscose staples fiber (dissolving pulp) as well. This new commitment is rife with policy gaps and, in fact, could allow the continued pulping of rainforests for paper until 2020. APRIL has not committed to stop natural forest conversion until the end of this year, and is continuing to feed its 2 million ton-capacity mill with rainforest fiber. Furthermore, the commitment does not address the fact that April and suppliers have cleared and converted vast areas of high conservation value and natural rainforest, despite these areas being identified as HCVs in need of protection.
APRIL has also omitted any safeguards to prevent ongoing land-grabs and human rights abuses by Toba Pulp Lestari (an RGE-affiliated company) perpetrated on Indigenous people in areas under development. As recently as last week, new protests over land-grabs have broken out near PT RAPP, where APRIL’s massive pulp mill is located. Local community members are blocking logging trucks to the mill and organizing to resist APRIL encroachment, highlighting the continued non-cooperation with local people impacted by APRIL’s operation.
In order to translate to change on the ground, the commitment must extend to all of RGE and APRIL’s sister companies and suppliers, and must close loopholes on the critical issues of human rights, peatland development and high conservation value forests. Even the commitment itself is murky, as APRIL fails to disclose the most basic information needed to understand what is being promised and assess the company’s performance. Transparency and reporting on progress are necessary to ensure that commitments are met.
While, this is a positive commitment, APRIL has yet to undertake a path to true reform. Pulp and paper customers must demand more before considering doing business with any of Sukanto Tanoto’s vast network of companies, which still remain entirely unaccountable for the consequences of their actions. In the meantime, the WBCSD should continue high level scrutiny of APRIL’s actions until APRIL has proven that it can fully turn its practices around.