2016: Reflecting on a Year of Action for Rainforest-Free Fashion, Indonesia’s forests, and the people who depend on them

posted by Brihannala Morgan

It’s been an amazing year for the Rainforest-free Pulp and Paper campaign! We’ve taken on some of the biggest names in the fashion industry, holding them responsible for the risk that deforestation and human rights abuses might be part of their supply chains, we’ve worked directly with grassroots NGOs and activists in Indonesia to support their campaigning, and we’ve sat down with some of the biggest names in on-the-ground forest destruction to convince them to take action.

Here are some of the highlights!

Out of Fashion

This year, RAN ramped up pressure on Abercrombie & Fitch—a company that currently stocks almost 300 items that use fabrics made from trees—to demand that the company take action to eliminate the risk of rainforest destruction and human rights abuses in its supply chain. So far, the campaign has generated over 40,000 petition signatures, hundreds of phone calls and targeted social media posts, 20 actions across the globe at store locations, and 50 people taking action at corporate headquarters. Yes, it’s been a busy year. Here’s just a sample of those of the actions we’ve taken:


Launch of Abercrombie & Fitch push in Santa Monica, CA in January 2016

  • Shortly after launching the Abercrombie & Fitch push at a flagship store in Santa Monica in  January 2016, RAN activists exposed the hidden scandal in the company’s supply chain to its shareholders by infiltrating a speech by a company executive at an investor conference in a swanky Times Square hotel. RAN activists hand-delivered copies of a newly released report titled “Rebranding for the 21st Century” that details the risks to A&F’s investors from community conflict and rainforest destruction in the company’s supply chain and sent it to its top 50 shareholders.


RAN activist infiltrates Abercrombie & Fitch executive speech with reports at investor conference in New York City

  • On May 28th RAN supporters turned up the heat with a Day of Action at 18 Abercrombie & Fitch stores around the world, in which a dozen volunteers delivered letters to store managers demanding the company take action for rainforest-free fabric. The day of action featured rallies, flash mobs, and creative actions like a runway-style picket line of fashion models at store locations in New York City, San Francisco, the Twin Cities, and Columbus, Ohio. These actions had such an impact that later that summer they helped inspire a similar youth-led flash mob at a company store in Detroit.


RAN activists demonstrate at iconic Abercrombie & Fitch 5th Ave store in New York City for the May 28th Global Day of Action.
Photo credit: Robert Pluma photography.robertpluma.com


Demonstrating after a flash mob at an Abercrombie & Fitch store in San Francisco for the May 28th Global Day of Action

  • RAN supporters also helped advance innovative online tactics, including giving Abercrombie & Fitch’s mobile app a 1-star rating and jamming A&F’s social media marketing as part of the Out of Fashion online rapid response team.
  • A highlight of the year was when 50 RAN youth activists took our campaign directly to Abercrombie & Fitch’s biggest event of the year—its annual party and 5K charity run at its corporate headquarters near Columbus, Ohio. Running as #TeamRainforest, RAN asked Abercrombie & Fitch’s employees and their families to be a part of the movement to ensure that rainforest destruction and human rights abuses are never part of its clothing. But that wasn’t all! In addition to running the race and sharing #TeamRainforest flyers and stickers with the crowd, we made sure our message was seen and heard with an airplane circling overhead trailing a massive banner that asked: “Is A&F with #TeamRainforest?”

50 RAN activists run as #TeamRainforest in the Abercrombie & Fitch charity run at its corporate headquarters near Columbus, Ohio

Recently, we’ve expanded our campaign focus to other fashion laggards like Michael Kors, Guess, Under Armour, Forever 21, and Foot Locker. So far this holiday shopping season more than 12,000 supporters have taken the Deforestation-Free Shopping Pledge, pledging not to buy from companies who have failed to take action to eliminate the risk of rainforest destruction in their clothing. We’re looking forward to seeing leadership for rainforest-free fashion from Abercrombie & Fitch and others in the new year. Let’s keep up the momentum and ensure that 2017 is another incredible year of actions for forests and frontline communities.

On-the-ground in Indonesia

But that’s not all! While the Out of Fashion team was tearing it up in the United States, we were also taking action in Indonesia, directly supporting the on-the-ground activists who are leading the fight against deforestation and human rights abuses. Here are just few highlights:

  • In March, we visited the community of Lubuk Mandrasah, a community that has been in conflict with pulp and paper giant Asia Pulp and Paper for many years. Together with a skilled photographer/videographer, we interviewed the leaders who are on the frontlines of this conflict and documented their stories. Keep an eye out for this powerful footage in the new year!
  • Also this year, we launched the “Community-Monitoring Toolkit” — a concrete checklist that frontline and Indigenous communities can use to document environmental destruction and social conflicts that are happening on the ground. The information that is collected can be used to document complaints to the company, complaints to the government, or to share with RAN members so we can take action and pressure the company to address the conflicts. For communities who sometime have to travel days to get to government offices or meetings with decision makers, having a tool that helps them collect the right information is vital. RAN has currently trained 15 community activists and 11 grassroots NGOs on how to use the toolkit; it will be piloted in 4 communities in the new year.
  • The RFP team has also continued to meet directly with some of the companies having the biggest impact on the forests in Indonesia — Asia Pulp and Paper, Royal Golden Eagle (who owns APRIL) and Toba Pulp Lestari. This continued face-to-face engagement is vital to ensure that these companies (who all have policies that promise they will stop all deforestation, expansion on peat, will address previous human rights violations, and will get the free, prior, and informed consent of communities in future planting) will take action and fully implement their policies. We also work with grassroots NGOs so that they can present their own stories at these meetings, and negotiate directly with top level management.

We’ve also continued to provide direct financial support, through RAN’s Protect-An-Acre program to grassroots groups in Indonesia. In 2016, this support as gone to (among others) support research on corruption in the forest sector in Sumatra, to documenting future threats to the forest in West Kalimantan, to support for grassroots mobilizations in North Sumatra, to buying GPS units to help communities document traditional land rights.

What’s next?

Next year, the RFP team is looking forward to even more impactful action in the US and in Indonesia. We’re at an exciting point — most of the worst of the worst companies active in Indonesia have developed policies which should, technically, eliminate forest destruction and human rights abuses. While these policies are an amazing first step, change has still been slow to come to the people and the forests that need it the most. That’s why, in the new year, we are going be doubling down on making sure that real change is coming to Indonesia’s forests. We are going to be introducing you —through blogs, stories, and videos— to some of the incredible leaders and the areas they are fighting to protect, and asking you to take action to make sure companies know that they won’t have your support until there are real changes on the ground.

In Batak, the language of the indigenous community we work with in North Sumatra, meetings are begun and ended with a lively cry of “Horas!”. Technically, this means “good health” or “good cheer” but —as our partners told me— it is really a shout to give spirit, and energy, for what comes ahead. So, I think about this next year, I just want to say that I am so excited to work with you, and with all of RAN’s incredible network, to continue to put pressure on companies, protect the forests, support grassroots activism, and change the world—HORAS!