In January of this year, APRIL – Indonesia's second-largest pulp and paper company and part of the RGE corporate empire controlled by Sukanto Tanoto – announced a new 'sustainability' policy, claiming to have placed a moratorium on plantation development until conservation assessments are completed in its supplier concessions.  RGE also owns Asian Agri, a major Indonesian palm oil producer.

A combination of pressure created by APP's forest conservation commitments and from both the international marketplace and the World Business Council on Sustainable Development, forced APRIL to at least appear committed to greater environmental responsibility.

But the small print of the commitments tells the real story.  APRIL 'will only use plantation fibre by the end of 2019'. That means that the company can continue to rely on fibre from rainforests until that time.

Equally troubling is that the commitments do not cover the other pulp companies controlled by Tanoto, they 'apply entirely and exclusively to Asia Pacific Resources International Holdings Ltd ("APRIL"), which is an independently managed company with operations in Indonesia. Yet Sukanto Tanoto, the ultimate owner of APRIL, owns/controls various others, including Toba Pulp Lestari, another Sumatra-based company with a history of rainforest clearance and social conflict, as well as the China-based Asia Symbol – known until last year as APRIL China.

To check if these limited new APRIL commitments actually mean anything where it matters – in the rainforests of Indonesia – Greenpeace investigators have recently been to Pulau Padang, an APRIL supplier on Padang Island, Sumatra. As you can see from these pictures taken in March, rainforest clearance and drainage of peatland has continued even after APRIL's high profile 'sustainability' pledges.  Apparently, development of such forest and peatland areas is not covered by APRIL's 'moratorium'.

A new drainage canal has been opened in this APRIL concession in Pulau Padang, Riau, Indonesia. 06/03/2014 © Greenpeace

The news this week that APRIL has formed a Sustainability Advisory Committee to help implement its commitments must therefore be seen in the context of the company– apparently within the remit of its new commitment –continuing deforestation and peatland development.  

While we do not doubt the good intentions of the members of the Sustainability Committee – for instance, the committee currently includes WWF and WBSCD –  the reality is that the policy that this committee is helping to implement will not stop deforestation nor will it address the impacts of all Tanoto's pulp companies.

Rainforest logs being stacked in Pulau Padang concession, Riau, Indonesia. 06/03/2014 © Greenpeace

To be credible APRIL and other pulp companies ultimately owned/controlled by Sukanto Tanoto (including Toba Pulp, Asian Symbol and Sateri) must commit to:

  • An immediate moratorium on further forest clearance across all supplier concessions in Indonesia until independent assessments have identified all forests and other conservation values for protection.
  • No further plantation development on forested peatland and best practice management to avoid and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from existing plantations on peatland.
  • Transparency regarding all supplier concessions in Indonesia and on the percentage of MTH fibre used at each of the group's pulp mills.
  • Sustainability action plans that cover all global fibre sourcing.
  • Greater clarity regarding forest restoration and compensation commitments.

In the absence of these commitments, and with continued rainforest clearance taking place in APRIL concessions in Indonesia, Greenpeace advises all companies purchasing paper and/or pulp from APRIL to suspend these contracts immediately.  

Zulfahmi is a forest campaigner at Greenpeace Southeast Asia