APP affiliate 'regrets' astroturfing on Indonesia deforestation claims

Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com
August 21, 2011



Dying tiger.
The death of this tiger from a snare sparked off a controversy in Australia. Hours after rescue, the tiger perished within miles of land under clearance by Asia Pulp and Paper (APP). Initial reports stated that the tiger was accidentally killed by a hunting snare meant for other animals, but Fauna and Flora International (FFI)-Indonesia told mongabay.com that they believe the snare was set purposefully for a tiger. APP blamed the tiger's demise on locals. Photo courtesy of Greenpeace.

Solaris, an Australian affiliate of Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), has been caught astroturfing an article that repeated criticism of APP from Greenpeace. The article, which appeared on Mumbrella—an Australian media and marketing news site—garnered a multitude of negative comments which were later tracked to IP addresses used by Solaris. Astroturfing is corporate or government messaging falsified as coming from the public or a grassroots movement.

The controversy began when a Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae) died from injuries after being trapped in a snare near an APP plantation. The video of the dying big cat by Greenpeace and ongoing campaigning spurred major Australian supermarket IGA to drop Solaris toilet paper from their store.

Following this, one or numerous Solaris employees pummeled the comments' section of a Mumbrella article. Mumbrella found that over 20 comments (all under different names) critical of Greenpeace came from one IP address at Solaris. Some comments singled out a particular Greenpeace activist, calling the environmentalist 'scum', a 'parasite' and other names that are unprintable. The commentator accused Greenpeace of exploiting the death of the tiger trapped near an APP plantation.

Comments also went after perceived 'foreigners' working at supermarket IGA: "To all you South AFricans running the show [at IGA], WE LOVE BRAVE AND STRONG MEN IN AUSTRALIA SO GO HOME."

"The comments were unprofessional and do not in any way reflect the position of Solaris Paper," Kunal Velani, a representative of Solaris told mongabay.com. "Solaris Paper has clear expectations around the ethical behavior of employees. That should include full transparency in any social media activity by people using company equipment as well as representing the Solaris Paper brand."

In a blog, Greenpeace says astroturfing by Solaris employees is "indicative of APP's global approach to criticisms leveled against it. Rather than addressing the catastrophic problems it's causing in Indonesia—deforestation on a grand scale, pushing species closer to extinction, creating conflicts with local communities—it prefers to throw up a smokescreen to convince its customers that it is behaving responsibly."

Green groups have long accused APP of focusing more on slick PR campaigns and disinformation instead of actually cleaning up its operation on the ground. The brand has even gone so far to set up a tiger conservation NGO that has recently patted itself on the back for moving a problem tiger out of an area that APP planned to log. APP's tiger conservation group has no support from tiger scientists. In addition, APP has been connected to at least two controversial groups: World Growth International (WGI) and Pulp Wars, a Facebook page supported by the Tea Party-affiliated Consumer Alliance for Global Prosperity (CAGP).

While both groups claim to be working toward improving the lot of the world's poor, WGI and CAGP consistently advocate on behalf of industrial forestry interests, including APP. Both groups have defended APP from critiques by environmental groups and scientists, yet neither discloses its funding sources. While APP has denied any involvement with WGI or CAGP, both groups suspiciously employ the same email list and use messaging very similar to that contained in APP corporate sustainability reports.

Prior to the incident, Solaris took out a full-page ad in newspapers calling Greenpeace allegation's against APP 'unfair' and 'deeply offensive', but inviting 'Greenpeace to join us at the table and play a constructive role in protecting endangered species.'

Solaris said it has been 'forced to downsize' related to the loss of IGA as a client.

"This was the direct result of unfair and ungrounded accusations and sustained threats by Greenpeace against loyal Solaris Paper customers. However that situation in no way excuses unprofessional behavior," Velani says.

Jobs is also an issue inn Sumatra where APP employs one worker for roughly 30 hectares of forest and plantation, while other activities, such as agrofroestry, cacao, or smallholder oil palm, generate 10-15 times more jobs per hectare.

In recent years, APP has been especially targeted by environmental groups for ongoing destruction of rainforest and peatlands in Sumatra. The area is key habitat for not only Sumatran tigers, but for a menagerie of species, big and small. In addition, green groups have linked the paper giant activities to substantial greenhouse gas emissions. Given the criticism, APP has lost a number of major clients since 2007, including Carrefour, Tesco, Kraft, Unisource, Staples, Walmart, Ricoh, Woolworths, Gucci, H&M, and Fuji Xerox. It also lost the right to use the FSC eco-certification label on its products.

Solaris, for its part, "expresses its sincere regrets to any individual or group singled out or who would have been offended [by the comments]." But the company did not respond to a question by mongabay.com as to whether any of their paper products contained pulp from natural forests in Indonesia.













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(07/25/2011) Caught in a snare and left for days without access to food and water, a wild Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae) perished from its wounds hours after forest officers reached it. As reported by Greenpeace—which photographed and filmed the rescue attempt—the tiger was trapped at the edge of a acacia plantation and remaining forest area actively being logged by Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) in Riau Province. Sumatran tigers are listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List; the subspecies, restricted to the Indonesian island, is in decline due to large-scale habitat loss and poaching.


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CITATION:
Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com (August 21, 2011).

APP affiliate 'regrets' astroturfing on Indonesia deforestation claims.

http://news.mongabay.com/2011/0821-hance_astroturfing.html