“Social media: as you can see, we’re learning as we go. Thanks for the comments.” On March 19th that was the status message on Nestlé’s Facebook fan page - which had already been under siege for three days. The message didn’t stay up there for long but it was obviously in recognition of the page administrator’s poor handling of the comments and criticisms that had been streaming in since the launch of our Kit Kat ad spoof.
Those of us following social media/marketing blogs know what happened to Nestlé’s online reputation - it quickly became synonomous with words like: “disaster”, “kitkatastrophe”, “nightmare”, “meltdown” and so on. But what did all of those Facebook comments do for Indonesia’s rainforests?
Those comments you left were the beginning of a string of successes in the long running campaign to protect Indonesian rainforests and carbon-rich peatlands. The strong reaction of Nestlé’s customers and concerned people (both online and offline) to the information that Nestlé was buying products from rainforest destruction, combined with the publicity that Nestlé’s online faux pas achieved, pushed the company to finally act on evidence we’d presented them over several years. They committed to investigating their supply chains and dropping contracts with companies whose products (palm oil and pulp and paper) were coming from destroyed rainforests and peatlands in Indonesia.
This is where notorious forest destroyer, the Sinar Mas group, comes in - an Indonesian conglomerate mainly involved in palm oil and pulp and paper production - but also beginning to enter into coal mining. The Sinar Mas group was an indirect and direct supplier of Nestlé and is involved in the clearance of vast areas of Indonesia’s rainforests and peatlands to make way for its palm plantations and pulp and paper operations. These areas not only include habitat for the endangered orang-utan and Sumatran tiger, but also peatlands which are huge natural carbon stores. Because massive amounts of carbon builds up in peatlands over time, when they are destroyed a huge amount of carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. This - together with the high rate of deforestation - makes Indonesia the world’s third largest emitter of climate changing greenhouse gases after the United States and China.
Shortly after the Nestlé success on palm oil we released the report: ‘How Sinar Mas is pulping the planet’ - which focused on the other major arm of the Sinar Mas group’s operations: pulp and paper. Through its subsidiary, Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), we showed that the Sinar Mas group was supplying well-known companies like KFC, Carrefour, and Walmart. The response to the report was immediate - within days some of the companies named announced cancellations of contracts with Sinar Mas and around the same time HSBC announced it had sold its shares in the Sinar Mas group. The HSBC announcement came after Greenpeace UK supporters created spoof HSBC advertisements.
Which exposed how the bank was investing in rainforest destruction and over 10,000 people e-mailed the bank directly to complain.
What does all of this mean for deforestation and peatland clearance in Indonesia? It means more scrutiny of the Sinar Mas group, more attention to the plight of Indonesia’s rainforests and peatlands, and increased pressure on the Indonesian President to live up to his commitments to reduce the country’s enormous greenhouse gas emissions by stopping deforestation and protecting peatlands. And part of these latest steps forward was a Facebook fan page fiasco.
Sinar Mas is not well-known outside of Indonesia. It is not an internationally recognized brand. It does not have an active Facebook fan page. It does not disclose full information about its operations to the public and it does not keep its environmental commitments - we recently revealed fresh evidence of this.
If you type ‘sinar mas’ into Google you’ll likely find that its reputation for forest destruction has effectively resulted in the company ‘Google-bombing’ itself. There are links to official Sinar Mas group homepages in the search results of course - but then there are the string of news articles and Greenpeace reports outlining over and over again the environmentally destructive nature of this conglomerate’s business and the impacts on Indonesia’s rainforests and peatlands.
This week Sinar Mas group is releasing an audit into a limited number of its many concessions in Indonesia. This audit is a result of our campaign and we expect that Sinar Mas will have nothing new to say. It has made and broken so many public promises to protect the environment - if it wants people to believe any of its statements it needs to stop promising and start implementing policies that stop the destruction of Indonesia’s remaining rainforests and peatlands. Until then Sinar Mas group will still be selling rainforest destruction in its products and Greenpeace will continue to investigate and expose its malpractices and urge other companies to cancel contracts with this group - as Nestlé and Unilever already have.
When the audit is released we need to ensure Sinar Mas group gets the kind of scrutiny it tries to avoid - follow us to hear the results and help us keep the spotlight on the plight of Indonesia’s remaining rainforests and peatlands: