Did it see the writing on the wall?
Notorious Indonesian pulp and paper producer APRIL has had a chequered history with the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). But late last week we heard that the relationship has finally came to an end – and in a most unexpected way.
News came last Friday that before an NGO-initiated FSC complaint process even had an opportunity to begin to investigate APRIL's deforestation practices, the company had effectively walked out on the FSC's certification scheme. Seemingly, APRIL did not want to risk the scrutiny of FSC's Policy for Association complaints process.
This marks the end of what has been a troubled relationship between a known forest destroyer and the FSC; but also the beginning of a not-so-slick PR campaign APRIL is rolling out to 'manage' its reputation as a forest destroyer.
Check out this recent public relations blunder filmed by The Guardian newspaper, where APRIL's chief public relations spokesperson repeatedly tried, and failed, to answer a simple question on deforestation: “How many trees does it cut down each year?” (see 02:50).
And now, by withdrawing from the FSC before it was kicked out, APRIL seems to be hoping to avoid the embarrassing publicity that it is, indeed, linked to forest destruction.
The story started back in 2008, when APRIL convinced an FSC certifier that it took the issue of protecting forests seriously. APRIL was allowed to market a number of its products with the FSC logo, so long as they were not made with fibre from 'uncontrolled' sources, such as deforestation.
But after just two years, the FSC certifier decided to cut ties with APRIL's mills in Indonesia – the major factor being APRIL's failure to comply with a deadline 'to stop all conversion of natural forest'. Nevertheless, APRIL – being a global player in the paper industry – had a host of sister paper mills in China that still held the rights to use the FSC logo for some of their products.
Greenpeace, together with WWF and the Rainforest Action Network (RAN), thought it was about time that APRIL no longer be allowed to use the FSC logo to green its credentials, anywhere in the world. In May, our three organisations filed a formal complaint with the FSC asking it to disassociate its brand from all APRIL companies, including those that still hold FSC certificates.
The latest development looks like APRIL didn't want to get embroiled in a mess of its own making. While APRIL has requested that all of its FSC certificates be withdrawn, this does call into question why the certifiers, SGS, Bureau Veritas and QMI granted the certificates in the first place.
If the FSC is to avoid use of its logo by companies not committed to the basic fundamental principles of responsible forest management, it needs to strengthen its due diligence procedures as part of its Policy for Association.
Clearly, the APRIL fiasco shows how some companies will try to avoid the spotlight when its suits them – and avoid accountability for forest crimes documented in NGO complaints to the FSC.
APRIL can't simply 'manage' its reputation and try to extricate itself from scrutiny. Greenpeace, together with our supporters around the world, will continue to investigate and expose forest destruction. Join us to find out more.
Bustar Maitar is Head of Indonesia Forest Campaign for Greenpeace SouthEast Asia