The news initially sounded  intriguing : Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) was inviting journalists in Jakarta to the launch of what the company grandly dubbed its “greatest commitment to natural forest protection.”

Discarding the PR gloss, however, leaves an announcement that exposes glaring gaps in APP’s ‘new’ policy and demonstrates that the company is still not serious about reform.

APP, which has been linked to illegal logging and the clearance of Sumatran tiger habitat, unveiled in in its press conference on Tuesday what it claimed were new measures to protect high conservation value forests (HCVF) in Indonesia.

Starting from June 1, the company said it would “suspend natural forest clearance while HCVF assessments are conducted” in areas “owned” by the company.

That of course sounds good on paper. The problem is, however, we’ve heard that before from APP.

Here is a snippet from an advertisement that APP ran in the New York Times newspaper back in 2006, called ‘Conservation beyond Compliance’:

 

 

The question that APP still needs to answer is: what has been happening for the past six years if it was already committed to protecting HCV forests back in 2006? The answer is: not a lot.

Investigations have indicated that APP has continued receiving timber from the clearance of natural forests, including those of high conservation value. In fact, as the NGO coalition Eyes on the Forest has reported, APP has even cleared areas previously identified as high conservation value forests by third parties. See page 9 of the report.

Still, this has not stopped APP from repeatedly making the same false claim that it is committed to protecting HCV forests.

Just last year, APP managing director Aida Greenbury, who chaired the Jakarta press conference earlier on Tuesday, promised that “any land which is to be converted must not contain High Value Conservation Forest.” Again, lovely words, but not matched by action.

So, given the company’s track record, it’s difficult to see today’s announcement either as ‘new’ or something that can be welcomed as real progress.

Look at the fine print also. APP says the new commitments will apply to areas “owned” by APP.  So how much of the supply chain does it actually own? Rather inconveniently, or perhaps conveniently for APP, no information or supporting evidence has been provided to answer that question.

What’s worse is that we have heard previously that it claims to control less than half of its supply chain. So what is it exactly?

In the end, APP would have been better advised to follow the approach taken by palm oil producer Golden Agri Resources (GAR), also part of the Sinar Mas Group. GAR had introduced a forest conservation policy last year that committed the company to not develop its plantations on forests or peatland.

So if APP wanted to convince customers and other stakeholders that it’s really changing, why didn’t it follow GAR’s lead?

Instead, the company has thrown away a perfect opportunity to convince them that it is serious about reform. The losers continue to be Indonesia’s forests and peatlands, as well as the reputation of Indonesia’s forest sector.