Year in Review: Rainforest Free Pulp and Paper Campaign

posted by Brihannala Morgan

What an incredible year for our work on pulp and paper in Indonesia! We had some incredible successes, one heartbreaking setback and many powerful moments. Here’s a glimpse behind the scenes of RAN’s pulp and paper work this year:

At the beginning of 2015, the pulp and paper team’s number one goal was to get a strong commitment from the second largest pulp and paper producer in Indonesia––Asian Pacific Resources International Holdings, or APRIL. APRIL had released a weak policy in 2014, but it wasn’t enough to protect forests or the people who depend on them. APRIL is a hard company to pressure –– it doesn’t have brand name products that it sells here in the United States, and it doesn’t even have many brand name companies as customers.. This makes it difficult to use our traditional RAN-style market pressure campaigning to drive APRIL to make reforms and change what happens on the ground. This pushed us to be extra creative.

APRIL is owned by the Royal Golden Eagle group, which also owns problematic palm oil plantations and wood-based fabrics manufacturing facilities. Along with an international coalition, RAN decided to push APRIL from every angle we could find. We pushed companies that bought from APRIL directly in Japan and elsewhere urging them to cut ties until APRIL developed a strong policy. We worked with allies to pressure their bankers. We engaged the Royal Golden Eagle group directly, meeting with the company directly to discuss our concerns and to convey our suggestions. After extensive research and outreach with partners on the ground, we honed in on one particularly egregious target––Royal Golden Eagle’s wood-based fabrics production supplier and sister company: Toba Pulp Lestari (TPL), operating in the Lake Toba region of North Sumatra. TPL was the worst of the worst––with 18 active community conflicts and a history of clearing pristine forests, TPL has direct supply chain links to US and international brands as well.

We decided to take on Toba Pulp Lestari through their connections to the world of fashion, holding fashion companies responsible for the controversial rayon and viscose that might be in their supply chain. In the autumn of 2014, we launched the Out of Fashion campaign, specifically designed to take on forest destruction for wood-based fabrics like rayon and viscose. This served two key purposes. First, Toba Pulp Lestari was (and is!) the company that needed to take immediate action to stop deforestation and human rights abuses. Second, we knew this would help us achieve the larger goal of pressuring Royal Golden Eagle and APRIL to take action to change the entire pulp and paper sector in Indonesia.

The Out of Fashion campaign was the highlight of our 2015 year. We started by naming 15 brand name fashion companies that use significant amounts of wood-based fabrics, but that didn’t have any policies addressing where these fabrics came from or due diligence procedures in place to prevent egregious fabric sources from entering their supply chains. We narrowed in on Ralph Lauren––one of the biggest companies on our Fashion 15 list.

Starting with Fashion Week in February of 2015, you helped us blast Ralph Lauren on Facebook, Twitter, and through direct emails to the company. The pressure really started to build when we went to the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) Awards, where we presented a huge banner with a brand jam of the Ralph Lauren logo reading, “When deforestation is part of your lifestyle…”. In October, we released a report specifically highlighting the impact of pulp and paper production in Indonesia, titled “Lessons from the Incense Forest.” We took this report to the Ralph Lauren shareholder meeting, and handed out the report outside the event, calling on them to be leaders. Ralph Lauren heard the message loud and clear, and in September, RAN sat down with Ralph Lauren to help the company develop a strong policy that will have a powerful impact in Indonesia and help it avoid egregious sources of forest-based fabric in future.

Non-stop campaigning by RAN and ally organizations also helped catalyze a tipping point when Royal Golden Eagle and APRIL both committed to develop or update their commitments on forests and human rights. Royal Golden Eagle released a series of relatively strong principles that all of its associated companies had to follow in developing their policies. In June 2015, APRIL released its Sustainable Forest Management Policy, version 2.0. Even Toba Pulp Lestari is purportedly working on a policy. These policies are a huge milestone for RAN and the many allied organizations who have been pushing for reform of the pulp and paper sector! It was also the first benchmark in the even more important work of ensuring that these policies are implemented and result in tangible changes and improvements for communities and forests on the ground.

The need for ongoing work to ensure implementation was underlined by perhaps the most tragic incident of the year––the beating and brutal murder of Indra Pelani, a farmer land rights activist, on a plantation owned by Asia Pulp and Paper in February 2015. Asia Pulp and Paper––the largest pulp and paper producer in Indonesia––was the first major pulp and paper producer to develop and start implementing a strong policy, in early 2013. Still, a strong policy on paper does not guarantee changes on the ground. Indra Pelani was going to attend a local harvest festival when he was abducted by security guards who worked for a security firm contracted by APP. His body was found the next day with his hands and feet bound, and obvious signs of having tortured and murdered.

RAN immediately suspended engagement with APP, and after talking with the leadership from a consortium of local NGOs, demanded justice for Indra Pelani and widespread changes from the company. The murderers have since been found guilty by the courts. Given the urgency of implementing wider reforms, and several critical actions by APP, such as canceling the contract with the security firm involved in Indra’s murder, RAN has proposed to APP a provisional re-engagement.

The need for continued pressure to ensure strong implementation was further underlined when devastating fires burned across Indonesia from July through October of this year. These fires, which were traditionally used to clear land, are illegal under Indonesian law. Still, thousands of fires have burned across Indonesia this season, with smoke inundating Kalimantan, Sumatra, Malaysia, and Singapore and having a devastating impact on millions of people’s health and the economies of Indonesia and its neighbors. According to the World Resources Institute, over 37% of those fires are found on plantations. RAN’s partners in South Sumatra identified that 78% of the fires in that province––which was hit hardest by forest fires––occurred within the bounds of plantations controlled by APP and its suppliers. As part of its forest policy, APP has a clear “no burn” commitment, but the fires this year bring into question the ability of APP to implement its policy and commitments and the sustainability of its operations over the long term.

Needless to say, as we look forward to 2016, RAN is going to continue our work pushing brand name companies in the United States, and internationally, to cut from their supply chains products that cause the destruction of rainforests and that are associated with land conflict and human and labor rights violations.

Thank you for all the incredible work that you have done to make this progress possible. Without your petition signatures, your online actions, and your presence in the streets, these accomplishments truly would not have been possible. We are thrilled by all that has occurred in the last year to protect Indonesia’s forests and the people who depend on them––but we know there is more to do, and we are excited to work together to take on that challenge in 2016!