In February this year, Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) released its new Forest Conservation Policy, which included an immediate end to the clearance of rainforests throughout its supply chain in Indonesia. This move followed years of campaigning by a wide a range of NGOs, including Greenpeace, against the company’s involvement in deforestation.
APP’s new policy was guardedly welcomed by many organisations, ours included. If fully implemented, the policy would stop any further expansion into rainforests and lead to the implementation of key conservation measures across APP’s supply chain.
However, there are significant notes of caution. First, APP has failed to deliver on previous conservation pledges. Second, this new policy comes after many years of expansion into rainforests and peatlands across Indonesia. Sumatra’s rainforests, in particular, have paid a heavy price from APP’s legacy. Reasonable questions therefore arise as to how the company can make amends for the past.
So, more than four months in, how is APP doing?
There is evidence of strong commitment by some key senior staff at APP and Sinarmas Forestry – its pulpwood supplier – to follow up on the forest conservation policy. They have enlisted the help of organisations such as APCS, Ekologika and TFT, that have a wide ranging work programme to identify conservation values across APP’s supply chain including all the areas of remaining rainforest.
There has also been a significant increase in transparency by APP. For example, the launch of a new website providing some important technical information about its operations including maps of supplier concession areas.
Equally, there appears to be a change in mind-set on finding solutions to major social conflicts with communities in a number of APP suppliers’ concessions, though a huge amount of work lies ahead before real progress can be confirmed.
Importantly, there has been a serious attempt to address ongoing criticisms and problems through the establishment of a grievance procedure if and when evidence comes to light of the new policy not delivering on the ground.
And finally there is a clear change in style and content from past PR exercises – the much criticised ‘rainforest realities’ website has gone, the ‘greenwash’ style CNN adverts from the past have been taken off the air.
So are there any problems?
The most important test of APP’s delivery is in the forest. And there have been a number of issues. APP announced an end to forest clearance from the 1st February, yet a recent NGO investigation found rainforest clearance – about 70 hectares – at an APP supplier’s concession in Sumatra.
Cases like this rightly lead to questions about whether APP is really changing. Was this a genuine screw up or a lack of seriousness on the ground? How will the company respond to ensure this doesn’t happen again?
Our view is that this can only be properly judged with more time. Any forest clearance is unacceptable. In their response, APP and TFT admit that mistakes have been made in this case, involving a prior agreement with local communities. Their grievance report confirms there were failings in decision making on the ground and that a process has been set up to ensure that lessons are learned. But, given APP’s previous track record, a number of stakeholders remain sceptical.
What about paper buyers, what should they do?
Concerns and scepticism are heightened by an apparent drive in some parts of APP’s sales division to turn its policy commitments to conserve forests into immediate new contracts . Pressing brands to enter contracts before there is clear and sustained evidence of delivery badly undermines the work being done to demonstrate that APP is changing.
APP has to focus on delivery. Failing to do so will harden NGO attitudes and lead many to conclude that the recent policy announcement is nothing more than a cosmetic change. The announcement of a new policy commitment does not magically erase the social and environmental damage done by the company, such as that highlighted by many NGO campaigns.
NGOs have a vital role to play in ensuring APP meets its conservation objectives through monitoring of its operations and by providing advice and feedback to the company on the implementation of its commitments.
Greenpeace, like other NGOs, maintains a position that it is too soon for APP to be rewarded in the market for its new forest conservation policy. The company must ensure that its commitments translate into long-term management plans to protect and where necessary restore important conservation areas, as well as credible actions to address the many social conflicts across its supply chain. Only this will demonstrate that APP is now serious about learning from the past and addressing its impacts.
But APP must also be encouraged along this path and be given space to implement its new policy. This is why we suspended our active campaign against the company earlier this year. It’s also why we have agreed to meet regularly with APP management to provide input and feedback regarding the type of actions the company must take to demonstrate things are changing.
So what’s next?
Our plan is to continue to monitor APP’s progress, but also to focus attention on APRIL, the other major player in the Indonesian pulp sector - relying heavily on rainforest destruction to meet its fibre needs – some 60,000 hectares a year at the last count.
As fires across Sumatra have caused widespread haze in Singapore and Malaysia, there have been claims that fire hotspots were detected in and around APP and APRIL suppliers’ concessions, as well as oil palm concessions. Many companies, including APP and APRIL, state that they have 'no burn' policies – a position that doesn’t account for their roles in creating the conditions for these fires through large-scale deforestation and peatland drainage. But stopping deforestation does at least help mitigate against any future catastrophes similar to the one we are experiencing now.
If we are to turn the tide of forest destruction in Indonesia, we need many more companies to make commitments to end their role in deforestation. And we have to ensure that those companies that do make such commitments deliver on them. I’ll write again about our views of APP’s progress in the near future.
...and in the near future, watch this space.
Bustar Maitar is head of the Indonesia Forest Campaign at Greenpeace Southeast Asia