Well, it's fair to say that a week is a long time when it comes to campaigning and no more so than when you're up against one of the world's most notorious rainforest destroyers. In the last weeks we have seen a volley of wild claims, accusations and dubious announcements all played out in the national media by Cottonsoft, Asia Pulp & paper and the NZ Food and Grocery Council.
It all relates to our investigation that revealed Cottonsoft toilet roll brands were linked to deforestation But if you've been following the story and you're a bit confused I don't blame you - I think that was their objective.
So for the uninitiated and those of who want to cut through the corporate spin, I would like to provide a reasoned overview of what's being going over the last couple of months.
Back in August, a coalition of green groups made up of The Green Party, WWF-New Zealand and Greenpeace exposed toilet paper manufacturer Cottonsoft for using rainforest fibre in its own-brand toilet rolls.
Our information is based on an investigation which began twelve months ago in December 2010, when the coalition wrote to all the major retailers and suppliers of toilet roll in New Zealand, including APP/ Cottonsoft, asking for information about the sourcing of their paper products. All but one provided written evidence and documentation to back up their sustainability claims.
The company that refused to do so was APP/ Cottonsoft. This was despite our assurances that the information would be treated in confidence - an assurance that I personally gave to Cottonsoft's CEO.
Cottonsoft, although a well established brand here at home, was bought up by APP in 2007. APP is one of the world's most notorious rainforest destroyers whose activities have been catalogued by a plethora of conservation groups based both in Indonesia and globally. Indeed, there's a mountain of evidence linking APP to rainforest destruction, and it even starts with APP's own documents. Some of these documents are public, such as its latest corporate social responsibility (CSR) report, APP admits that it uses rainforest fibre, though it prefers to refer to this in PR-speak as 'mixed wood residues'.
So it's fair to say we had reason for concern and so subsequently sent samples of Cottonsoft brands to one of the world's leading forensic laboratories for testing. And lo and behold the results conclusively showed that some Cottonsoft products contained rainforest fibre. These results that have since been s confirmed by a second laboratory.
But this is not the only way we compile our evidence and our case against APP is as extensive as it is damning.
By carrying out aerial surveys of APP concession areas we have repeatedly documented, using GPS images, large scale rainforest clearance by APP's suppliers. Our mappers have pinpointed deforestation in APP concessions. Our on-the-ground investigations have tracked the timber from these areas to APP mills, and our chain of custody research links the products from these mills to global brands like those in the toilet paper sector.
And yes, we also did forensic testing that confirms the presence of rainforest fibre (mixed tropical hardwoods) in a number of products. Since the release of our investigation, communication between Greenpeace and APP / Cottonsoft has been sporadic at best and often through the lens of the media, yet ultimately hindered by their failure to provide a shred of evidence to us that their products are sourced from sustainable sources. You have to ask yourself why it is that 12 months after being contacted and following a myriad of indignant claims by Cottonsoft, not a single document has yet been provided.
This contrasts with the other companies which happily provided detailed information on where they were sourcing, what fibres were used, where they were manufactured and most importantly what chain of custody documentation they had to prove all of this.
Yes, APP / Cottonsoft has now conducted their own testing on their own products, only last week releasing a much trumpeted summary of the results and declared that their products were free of rainforest fibre. But it was only a summary., They still won't release the full report, nor even confirm if these tests were on the same products we had tested. Instead they released just the bits they like and this was only after getting clearance from APP in Jakarta.
We have subsequently and repeatedly asked for the full report, yet a self selected and ambiguous offering was all they considered the New Zealand public and their customers deserved. Sadly, years of experience have shown this is how APP roll.
What is inescapable is the huge fly in their PR ointment. Nothing in this flurry of PR explains why repeated tests have shown rainforest fibre to be present in some of Cottonsoft's toilet paper products, nor how it got there.
And this is par for the course. When exposed for their continued links to rainforest destruction, APP respond by cranking up their multi-million dollar PR machine and enlist industry lobby groups to front their cause. This is as predictable as it is clumsy, especially when they are peddling nonsense masquerading as fact.
Enter the Food and Grocery Council (FGC).
The FGC have come out in defence of Cottonsoft with a rather undignified enthusiasm. It's not surprising that they are supporting one of their members, but the manner in which they are doing it definitely is. A barrage of accusations - all completely groundless and inaccurate - have only further added to the confusion, damaged their own credibility and are a disservice to the other companies represented by the council who are doing the right thing.
The way in which the FGC has defended APP / Cottonsoft has echoes of the erroneous and shrill statements made by industry front groups like the climate sceptic Alex Oxley's World Growth - who vehemently lobby on behalf of pulp-wood and palm oil companies in Indonesia. And this is highly disconcerting. The FGC appear to be putting the interests of a disreputable Indonesian logging company above those interests of New Zealand companies and retailers who have a responsible and sustainable approach to sourcing paper products.
Because you see there's a wealth of other companies, many of whom genuinely are New Zealand based, who faired very well in our consumer guide to rainforest friendly toilet roll. Indeed, some of them such as Kimberley Clark have previously been on the rough end of Greenpeace campaigns linking them to the destruction of forests, but have now implemented clear and transparent sustainable procurement policies, which has been welcomed by NGOs.
Greenpeace do not make the decision to target any company lightly, and do so only once a thorough investigation and extensive research have been undertaken. But ultimately, if we have conclusive evidence that a company is complicit in or linked to environmental destruction, we will take action. And we have a rich history of helping those companies implement the changes needed to ensure they become more sustainable, which is good for both business and the environment.
So, in short, our demand remains simple - that Cottonsoft / APP (whoever calls the shots) makes a firm and sincere commitment to stop destroying rainforests to make throwaway products such as toilet roll and then we can start the discussion on how to implement these changes.
Send a message now to NZ supermarkets urging them to take Cottonsoft products off the shelves until these commitments get made.
Photo: Sumatra, Indonesia. Destroyed forest land at APP (Asia Pulp and Paper) concession in Siak District, Riau.© FB Anggoro / Greenpeace