Last May, on a hot mid-summer day, I remember standing with some Greenpeace activists in orang-utan suits outside KFC outlets in Connaught place, Delhi. Our demand to KFC and their parent company YUM was "stop buying packaging material from Asia Pulp &Paper (APP) and clean up their supply chain to end deforestation for paper and palm oil, in Indonesia".
Indonesia's rainforests are a vital habitat for endangered species including the Sumatran tiger and home to thousands of forest communities. The Indonesian government has identified the pulp and paper sector as a lead driver of deforestation in Indonesia, along with the palm oil sector.
Last week, Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), one of the paper giants in the world committed to a "Forest Conservation Policy" to end deforestation. It wasn't an easy task, it took years of campaigning, building pressure through millions of people all over the world, Indonesian and international NGOs challenging APP's role in large-scale rainforest clearance, which includes loss of vital wildlife habitat and areas claimed local community.
Rainforest destruction in Indonesia
The campaign saw many global brands suspending contracts with APP and adopting policies ensuring "no deforestation" from their supply chains after a wave of public pressure inspired by Greenpeace. Over 100 companies have taken action, including Adidas, Kraft, Mattel, Hasbro, Nestlé, Carrefour, Staples and Unilever.
Similar public pressure and contract cancellations by many companies moved APP's sister company and the palm oil giant Golden Agri Resources (GAR) to start implementing "strong no deforestation" commitments in early 2011. Since then they started getting back their lost customers and rebuilt their own damaged reputation.
As the demand for palm oil and paper increases, substantial tracts of tropical forests are often cleared to make room for large plantations. Emerging market nations like India and China alone constitute for 34% of global imports of palm oil.
So what are Indian corporates doing about this issue?
India is the world's largest importer of palm oil and most of this comes from Indonesia. With the opportunity to demand cleaner supplies from Indonesian suppliers and to show true leadership, Indian companies like Ruchi Soya, Adani Wilmar, Godrej Industries, Britannia, Parle and many others who are users of Indonesian palm oil in their products have so far been talking only in the air and continue their narrow pursuit of profit while risking their reputation.
Yes, If APP keeps up its commitments; it would mean a great deal in changing the course of deforestation but there is a long way to go to end deforestation in Indonesia. There are many players who are still continuing business as usual. They all need to push for zero deforestation in order to give the Sumartan tiger, the orangutans, the elephants, the rhinos and millions of communities a chance.
Nandikesh is a forest campaigner with Greenpeace India