The resulting haze – last year stretching from Singapore to Thailand – is again now emerging as a global climate threat and a public health disaster. We need solutions. Yet some companies will go to extraordinary lengths to pretend they're not even part of the problem.
Forest Fires in Sumatra © Ulet Ifansasti / Greenpeace
Take the RGE Group, a family-controlled empire with palm oil and pulp interests, as an example. One of its companies, APRIL, is Indonesia's second largest pulp and paper company and the number one cause of deforestation by that industry. By contrast, its main competitor, Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), put in place a No Deforestation policy more than a year ago, and recently committed to protect and restore 1 million hectares of forest.
RGE/APRIL knows that as the forest fires intensify, it will come under increasing scrutiny. Yet rather than reform its operations, the RGE Group is spending its money on a charm offensive. Earlier this year, APRIL launched a Sustainable Forest Management Policy accompanied by a series of blogs that portrayed it as a responsible corporate citizen and the victim of mean, deceitful NGO campaigns. This is simply not true.
Here are the top six myths RGE/APRIL wants you to believe...all being used to cover its ongoing rainforest destruction.
Myth #1: "APRIL is not deforesting Indonesia"
Last year APRIL's then-PR director was busted in an interview with The Guardian claiming that APRIL isn't involved in deforestation (from 2.30 minutes onwards – it's well worth a watch!). He left the company soon after, but we have again caught APRIL making this baffling claim in a leaked customer briefing, claiming "We reforest, not deforest". RGE/APRIL implies that tearing down a rainforest and replacing it with a monoculture plantation is actually a good thing!
Recently deforested peatland inside a PT. Riau Andalan Pulp & Paper (PT RAPP) concession on Pulau Pedang, Riau Province. PT RAPP is a subsidiary of APRIL, the pulp & paper division of the RGE Group. 05/30/2014 © Ulet Ifansasti / Greenpeace. 1°0'53"N 102°18'24"E.
Myth #2: "Sustainability is in the company's DNA."
In May, we visited one of RGE/APRIL's concessions in Padang Island, Sumatra. The company has claimed to protect high conservation value forest since 2005 (here, first paragraph) – but apparently this dense natural forest on swampy deep peat didn't meet the criteria set out in these 'rigorous assessments'. APRIL refuses to make its assessments public, but it's crystal clear that they don't include identifying and protecting forested areas like this, as our exclusive photos show.
Recent large-scale clearance of peatland forest inside a PT. Riau Andalan Pulp & Paper (PT RAPP) concession on Pulau Pedang, Riau Province. 05/20/2014 © Ulet Ifansasti / Greenpeace. 1°0'59"N 102°17'39"E.
Myth #3: RGE/APRIL claims its sustainable forest management policy has "strong support from external stakeholders".
APRIL likes to pretend that WWF and even the Norwegian Government are on its side - see below a letter they sent to a customer.
However WWF have actually said that APRIL's policy "needs to be strengthened and more clearly defined". It should "extend its commitment to the rest of the RGE group of companies" and include "a moratorium on all forest and land clearance and peat development activities". RGE/APRIL has yet to do any of these things.
Myth #4: APRIL does not source from High Conservation Value (HCV) forests, as proven by peer reviewed, independent assessments.
The fact is, APRIL does not make its HCV assessments publicly available. The organisation APRIL claims has peer reviewed all of them - the HCV Resource network - has told us it has done nothing of the sort. It has only peer reviewed the assessments for two concessions, neither of which are on Padang Island. Greenpeace has obtained confidential information (RGE/APRIL has never published information on their supply base) which showed that APRIL is supplied by approximately 50 concessions.
Drainage of peatland forest inside a PT. Riau Andalan Pulp & Paper (PT RAPP) pulpwood concession on Pulau Pedang, Riau Province. 05/20/2014 © Ulet Ifansasti / Greenpeace 1°1'53"N 102°17'57"E
Myth #5: Peat fires? Don't blame us, we have a No Burning Policy.
APRIL says it banned burning on its concessions 20 years ago. But forest fires don't just happen spontaneously. Drained peat is highly flammable, and when companies like RGE/APRIL drain these areas – as can be seen in this image - they create a tinderbox. Peat swamps hold billions of tonnes of carbon and when drained and burned, they can become disaster for the global climate.
Scorched peatland forest inside the PT Sumatra Riang Lestari (PT SRL) pulpwood concession in Rupat Island, in Riau Province. PT SRL is a supplier to APRIL. 05/20/2014 © Ulet Ifansasti / Greenpeace: 1°55'8"N 101°33'49"E.
Myth # 6: Peat fires? Don't blame us, it's the local communities' fault.
Indonesia suffered from an unusual peak in fire hot spots during in February and March this year, and RGE/APRIL was quick to lay the blame on local communities. But fire hotspots, based on 2011 data, were 3.5 times more frequent on deforested peatland than on peatland that hadn't been cleared by unscrupulous companies like APRIL. It's like dousing your house in petrol and blaming a passing smoker when it all goes up in flames.
This is what RGE/APRIL's sustainable forest management looks like: more deforestation, more drainage of peatland, and the risk of yet more fires. The evidence speaks for itself. Until APRIL and all plantation companies in the RGE Group stop the bulldozers and implement a No Deforestation Policy, everyone that does business with the Group is contributing to one of the worst environmental crises in Southeast Asia.
Who are RGE/APRIL's customers?
These companies are known customers of the RGE/APRIL for pulp/paper based products: the company behind Post-it Notes 3M, American pulp and paper company International Paper, and US retailer Costco.
Office supplies chain, Staples, recently confirmed to Greenpeace that it will not stock APRIL products globally, after Greenpeace identified links to the company in China. Antalis has also confirmed that it won't buy from APRIL until it implements a Forest Conservation Policy.
It's time all RGE/APRIL's customers follow their lead.
Who finances this deforestation?
According to Reuters, Santander Bank, based in Spain, and ABN Amro in the Netherlands are among the companies, which recently provided financing for RGE Group pulp interests in China. Both banks claim to have sustainability policies in place to guide their lending in the forest sector.
Greenpeace has recently contacted all of these companies, demanding that they suspend engagement with RGE until the group ends its involvement in deforestation. It's time APRIL and all RGE related pulp companies cut the greenwash and cleaned up their act.
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