Drainage canals cut into deep peat to clear tropical forest to supply mixed tropical hardwood (MTH) to a pulp mill owned by APP/Sinar Mas. Photo taken by Eyes on the Forest on 18 May 2012. Click image see the geographic location, for the related story, click here.
Over the past decade-and-a-half there has arguably been no paper supplier as controversial as Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), an umbrella brand for several Indonesian forestry companies. The paper giant has been dogged by allegations that is destroying key wildlife habitat, driving substantial greenhouse gas emissions through the conversion of peat forests, dispossessing local communities of land, and engaging in a heavy-handed campaign to undermine its critics within Indonesia and abroad. Its reputation hasn’t be helped by its financial record — in 2001 it defaulted on $13.9 billion in debt, making it difficult for APP to raise money for expansion.
Environmentalists also accuse APP of repeatedly defaulting on its environmental commitments. Since 2004, APP has missed three self-imposed targets for phasing out logging of natural forests in Sumatra and had a public falling-out with the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a timber certification body, after it failed to preserve areas designated as high-conservation value by FSC’s conservation partner, the Rainforest Alliance. APP’s environmental record has been sharply criticized by another former partner: WWF. Both WWF and another APP-critic, Greenpeace, have in turn become the targets of corporate lobby groups like World Growth International, whose chairman has served as a paid attack dog for APP. APP’s woes have been exacerbated by its approach to public relations, which at times has included claims that are openly questioned by NGOs. One APP affiliate abroad was even caught “astroturfing”, or attempting to make it look like it had grassroots support behind its campaign. The troubles surrounding APP have cost it dozens of customers around the world.
Given this track record, it comes as little surprise that when APP announced a new “Sustainability Roadmap,” the response from environmentalists was tepid. Some thought the language actually represented a step back from previous commitments. They noted that the pledge to phase out sourcing of fiber from natural forests only applied to concessions owned outright by APP, not its independent suppliers which account for 60 percent of APP’s fiber. And APP still retained a carve out of 5 percent for fiber from “waste” sources. Concerns were also raised about a giant new mill slated for South Sumatra that according to some is linked to the Sinar Mas, a group of companies that includes APP. Independent analysis suggests that there isn’t enough local plantation fiber to meet that new mill’s production capacity.
Past and forecast demand and production targets for Indonesia’s pulp and paper industry.
But some environmentalists are hopeful that this time might be different for APP. One of these is The Forest Trust, a group that works with companies to improve the environmental performance of their supply chains. The Forest Trust (TFT) has now revealed to mongabay.com that it is working with APP to implement and monitor a new sustainability program for the paper giant.
TFT’s involvement is noteworthy as it has produced success elsewhere. In 2011 it helped Golden Agri Resources (GAR), Indonesia’s largest palm oil company and under the same ownership as APP, establish a forest conservation policy that excludes conversion of land that has more than 35 tons of carbon (effectively peatlands and rainforests) and requires free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) in dealing with local communities. The measures immediately moved GAR — which had been the target of a brutally effective Greenpeace campaign — to the forefront of environmental policy among Indonesian palm oil companies. Independent analysis suggests that GAR is so far abiding by the policy, which may already be paying dividends for the company. Whereas two years ago, GAR was suffering from sustained customer defections, earlier this month there was sufficient good will or market optimism for GAR to raise $400 million via a bond offering.
Whether TFT can do the same with APP remains to be seen. Scott Poynton, the Founder & Executive Director of TFT, responded to some questions from mongabay.com about his partnership with one of the world’s most controversial paper producers.
Q&A with SCOTT POYNTON
Mongabay.com: When did TFT begin the process of engagement with APP?
Scott Poynton: TFT began working with APP in February 2012.
Mongabay.com: What is the scope of TFT’s engagement with APP? Are affiliates and “independent” suppliers included?
Scott Poynton: TFT is working with APP on the ground in Indonesia and China, providing advice, guidance, capacity building and monitoring on issues around High Conservation Value forests, High Carbon Stock forests, peat land clearance, community conflict and other operational issues affecting environmental and social performance.
APP is not a TFT member; to date, we have an agreement to work together to design and implement a new sustainability program for the company that at the same time helps it address NGO campaign issues. At this time, TFT is providing technical and strategic advice to APP management and operations.
We are regularly assessing APP operations and we have agreed a series of actions to start to deal with the most critical issues as a matter of priority. Our work plan highlights a broad range of areas where we will work closely with APP.
APP’s Sustainability Road Map, published in May 2012, made commitments to implement HCVF assessments across APP’s entire fibre supply base. These are underway in APP’s own concessions and are now starting to be extended beyond APP’s own concessions to independent suppliers. It is urgent priority to have all suppliers cease natural forest clearance operations in advance of HCVF assessments. We are still working on peat, community conflict and HCS issues. At this stage, more is needed from APP.
Mongabay.com: Are you doing any SVLK work for APP? If so, are you looking beyond legal compliance at things like sustainability?
Scott Poynton: Yes – we are working with APP on an overall framework for sustainability which includes and goes beyond legal compliance.
Mongabay.com: How does TFT’s engagement with APP compare with TFT’s work with GAR on its forest conservation policy?
Scott Poynton: It’s exactly the same. We are in the very early stages but are looking at the full range of environmental and social issues affecting APP’s operations.
Mongabay.com: Does this mean that APP has committed to no conversion of forests with more than 35 tons carbon and will practice FPIC when dealing with local communities?
Scott Poynton: When I said “exactly the same” I meant that the process we’re adopting with APP is exactly the same as the process we adopted with GAR that led, over time, to GAR’s Forest Conservation Policy. We’re looking at all the issues confronting the company – all issues raised by NGOs, government, communities – and we’ll systematically work through these. The framework for the solutions will be the same as GAR – APP needs to look at exactly the same elements as in GAR’s FCP i.e. HCVF, HCS, peat, FPIC and legal compliance. How we deal with each issue will be determined through our discussions and engagement with all the stakeholders.
Forest clearing in the Bukit Tigapuluh Forest Landscape in central Sumatra. Courtesy of Greenpeace.
So APP has not yet committed to no conversion of forests with more than 35 tons carbon but has committed to – and we have started – a HCS study of its supply base. It has also committed to resolving social conflicts and to FPIC and we have started work on that as well. The work on HCVF has started too.
Mongabay.com: Is TFT aware of past controversies with APP in regards to HCVF assessment, specifically the situation with Rainforest Alliance / Smartwood? If so, is TFT taking any special measures of avoid that outcome or is it out of your control? Is TFT concerned that its work with APP could tarnish its reputation?
Scott Poynton: We are aware of these past issues – we consider them to be what change experts call ‘wicked problems’. TFT brings its own approach to resolving wicked problems. Wicked problems are ill-defined, ambiguous and associated with strong moral, political and professional issues. Since they are strongly stakeholder dependent, there is often little consensus about what the problem is, let alone how to resolve it. Furthermore, wicked problems won’t keep still: they are sets of complex, interacting issues evolving in a dynamic social context. Often, new forms of wicked problems emerge as a result of trying to understand and solve one of them. While many of the issues facing APP are well defined, finding solutions is highly complex; they represent classic wicked problems. We have proven that our approach can solve such wicked problems in other contexts. The key is getting people to speak to each other – not easy when positions are so polarized after so many years. We do not know whether it will work here, but we are ready to try and in that context we are not worried about our reputation being tarnished.
Many NGOs spend much time worrying about their reputation and this prevents them from fully engaging in the discussions needed to solve wicked problems. Meanwhile, forests disappear. Our focus is on getting deeply into the complex, ill-defined context and doing our absolute best with APP and other stakeholders to improve the situation.
We believe that APP understands it needs to address the issues that Greenpeace and other NGOs have raised. TFT walks away from partners who are not serious. TFT will apply the same rules to APP that it has applied to all other companies it has ever worked with. So long as we feel that the company is serious and that we’re moving forward at a sufficient pace, we will remain engaged.
There are many obstacles to progress in any context as complex as the one APP is operating in. We’re dealing with tradeoffs between people’s aspirations for economic and social development and the need to conserve biodiversity and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. There are many stakeholders in the mix, and the complexity, but also the opportunity, comes from our work to get everyone to agree on a way forward.
Mongabay.com: Will the findings be made public?
Scott Poynton: Once we are happy that APP is making significant progress we will publish regular updates. TFT’s approach to communications is to be transparent and understated. Our work is at an early stage, but when there is something to report, we will. In the meantime, we need space to work.
Mongabay.com: But there is no specific commitment from APP to transparently make your findings available?
Scott Poynton: We have agreed with APP that regular reports will be critical to transparency. APP has started quarterly reporting against its Sustainability Roadmap but TFT plans its own reporting process to ensure what we’re doing and what we’re finding is made available.
(09/06/2012) Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) has established a moratorium on natural forest conversion in Jambi province on the island of Sumatra, according to a report issued by the Indonesian forestry giant.
REDD-Monitor interview with Scott Poynton [External]
(08/23/2012) Interview with Scott Poynton, TFT: “We help companies clean up their supply chains – that is the way we need to go to protect the world’s forests”
(08/10/2012) Indonesia’s pulp and paper targets incompatible with green growth goals Indonesia’s ambitious targets for boosting pulp and paper production to make it the world’s lowest-cost producer are at odds with its push for green economic growth should expansion proceed on its current business-as-usual path, said a forestry expert presenting at the annual meeting of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC) in Bonito, Brazil.
(07/27/2012) Asia Pulp & Paper’s new sustainability commitment represents a scaling back of earlier environmental pledges and does not offer new protection for natural forests in Sumatra, alleges a new report from Eyes on the Forest, a coalition of green groups based in Riau, Sumatra.
(05/29/2012) Palm oil giant PT SMART appears to be honoring its commitment to avoid conversion of high carbon forests in Indonesian Borneo, reports a new assessment published by Greenomics, an Indonesian environmental activist group. The report was issued 15 months after PT SMART — a subsidiary of Singapore-based Golden Agri Resources (GAR) and owned by Indonesia’s Sinarmas Group — signed a landmark agreement with The Forest Trust (TFT) to spare forests and peatlands that have more than 35 tons of carbon per hectare. The deal came after a damaging Greenpeace campaign, which targeted PT SMART for clearing orangutan habitat in Kalimantan and cost the company millions of dollars in contracts.
(05/29/2012) In a press release issued last Thursday, Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) asserted that the presence of mixed tropical hardwood fiber (MTH) in its products ‘does not come from the felling of virgin tropical rainforest trees in Indonesia’. The embattled paper giant goes on to say that ‘the presence of MTH fiber says nothing about whether the product is sustainable or not” and that “MTH can be found easily in recycled paper.’ All these points are true. But what APP doesn’t tell you is that its response is yet another facade in its effort to deflect criticism from its forestry practices.
(05/03/2012) Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment is planning to sue 14 pulp and paper companies for illegally logging forests in Riau Province on the island of Sumatra, reports Tempo Magazine. 12 of the 14 companies are linked to Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) and Asian Pacific Resources International Holdings Limited (APRIL), pulp and paper giants that have been heavily criticized by environmentalists for destroying rainforests and peatlands that serve as critical habitat for endangered tigers, elephants, and orangutans.
(05/01/2012) As fallout from its campaign against Asia Pulp & Paper grows, Greenpeace’s critics have opened a new front on the environmental group, accusing it of “embezzlement”, reports Mongabay-Indonesia.
(03/07/2012) Less than a week after Greenpeace released evidence that protected tree species were being illegally logged and pulped at an Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) mill in Sumatra, a major certifier, the Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC), has lodged a complaint and asked for an investigation. In addition to PEFC’s move, the National Geographic Society (NGS), which was found to be sourcing from APP recently, has publicly broken ties with the company, and Greenpeace has handed over its evidence to Indonesian police who told the group there would be an investigation.
(03/01/2012) A year-long undercover investigation has found evidence of Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) companies cutting and pulping legally protected ramin trees, a practice that violates both Indonesian and international law. Found largely in Sumatra’s peatswamp forests, the logging of ramin trees (in the genus Gonystylus) has been banned in Indonesia since 2001; the trees are also listed under Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and thus require special permits to export. The new allegations come after APP, an umbrella paper brand, has lost several customers due to its continued reliance on pulp from rainforest and peatland forests in Sumatra.
(02/15/2012) Beleaguered paper giant Asia Pulp & Paper was sharply criticized Wednesday for its claims that its operations are certified sustainable by independent auditors. WWF said its survey of certifiers and certification schemes shows that none apply to ‘the most controversial operations’ of APP’s suppliers: clearing of rainforests and peatlands that are home to endangered tigers, elephants, and orangutans. In responding to complaints from environmentalists that its operations are responsible for large-scale destruction of native forests, APP often touts various certification standards which it says demonstrate its commitment to sustainability. Yet the new WWF survey found that these standards don’t apply across all of the paper giant’s operations — APP’s suppliers in Indonesia continue to harvest and convert natural forests. Nor do the certification standards necessarily prove that APP’s forest management practices are ‘sustainable’.
(12/16/2011) Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) continues to mislead the public about its role in destroying rainforests and critical tiger habitat across the Indonesian island of Sumatra, alleges a new report from Eyes on the Forest, a coalition of Indonesian environmental groups including WWF-Indonesia. The report, titled The truth behind APP’s Greenwash, is based on analysis of satellite imagery as well as public and private documentation of forest cleared by logging companies that supply APP, which is owned by the Indonesian conglomerate, Sinar Mas Group (SMG). The report concludes APP’s fiber suppliers have destroyed 2 million hectares of forest in Sumatra since 1984.
(12/13/2011) The Indonesian group Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) has been the target of many NGOs for years due to its alleged negative impacts on tropical forests. This culminated in a spectacular campaign launched by Greenpeace in 2011 based on Ken “dumping” Barbie. The rationale was that toy brand Mattel was accused of using APP paper products linked to the clear-cutting of natural forests in the Indonesian archipelago. APP organized a counter-attack in the media with the daily publication of advertisements promoting its sustainable development practices. Journalists from all over the world were also invited to attend guided tours of APP concessions to demonstrate their conservation efforts, and a number of articles were subsequently written.
(11/27/2011) Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) misled the public when the paper products giant claimed a paper testing company had found its fiber clear of rainforest fiber, says Greenpeace.
(11/22/2011) A new report by an Indonesian environmental group casts doubt on Asia Pulp & Paper’s commitment to sustainability. In its corporate social responsibility reports and advertisements, Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), one of Indonesia’s largest pulp and paper suppliers, has touted several forest reserves as indicators of its commitment to environmental stewardship. APP has portrayed these as voluntary, goodwill efforts to conserve Sumatra’s endangered wildlife. But in a new report, Greenomics-Indonesia, a Jakarta-based NGO, says that at best these projects represent compliance with existing Indonesian laws or are in areas where commercial exploitation isn’t viable.
(11/16/2011) Greenpeace and Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), a giant global paper supplier, are locked in a heated battle over the activist group’s allegations that APP products contain fiber sourced from the destruction of forests in Indonesia. At stake is APP’s access to some of the world’s most lucrative markets. Until APP provides solid evidence refuting Greenpeace’s accusation that its pulp and paper production isn’t coming at the expense of natural forests in Indonesia, APP will have a difficult time winning over critics.
(06/07/2011) Some of the world’s largest and most prominent toy-makers are sourcing their packaging materials from companies linked to large-scale destruction of Indonesia’s rainforests, alleges a new report from Greenpeace. The report, How APP is Toying with Extinction, is based on forensic analysis of toy packaging from Mattel, which manufacturers Barbie and Hot Wheels toys; Disney, which makes a variety of toys linked to its movies; Hasbro, which produces GI Joe, Star Wars, and Sesame Street toys and various games like Monopoly and Scrabble; and Lego, which makes the iconic plastic building blocks. The analysis found traces of mixed-tropical hardwood (MTH) and acacia fiber which are principally sourced from Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), an umbrella paper products brand that sources from several companies that have been linked to rainforest destruction in Sumatra.
(03/17/2011) Indonesian environmental groups launched a urgent plea urging the country’s two largest pulp and paper companies not to clear 800,000 hectares of forest and peatland in their concessions in Sumatra. Eyes on the Forest, a coalition of Indonesian NGOs, released maps showing that Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) and Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL) control blocks of land representing 31 percent of the remaining forest in the province of Riau, one of Sumatra’s most forested provinces. Much of the forest lies on deep peat, which releases large of amount of carbon when drained and cleared for timber plantations.
(02/09/2011) One of the world’s highest profile and most controversial palm oil companies, Golden Agri-Resources Limited (GAR), has signed an agreement committing it to protect tropical forests and peatlands in Indonesia. The deal—signed with The Forest Trust, an environmental group that works with companies to improve their supply chains—could have significant ramifications for how palm oil is produced in the country, which is the world’s largest producer of palm oil.
(01/13/2011) Over the past several years, Asia Pulp & Paper has engaged in a marketing campaign to represent its operations in Sumatra as socially and environmentally sustainable. APP and its agents maintain that industrial pulp and paper production — as practiced in Sumatra — does not result in deforestation, is carbon neutral, helps protect wildlife, and alleviates poverty. While a series of analyses and reports have shown most of these assertions to be false, the final claim has largely not been contested. But is conversion of lowland rainforests for pulp and paper really in Indonesia’s best economic interest?
(11/30/2010) Indonesia’s push to become the world’s largest supplier of palm oil and a major pulp and paper exporter has taken a heavy toll on the rainforests and peatlands of Sumatra, reveals a new assessment of the island’s forest cover by WWF. The assessment, based on analysis of satellite imagery, shows Sumatra has lost nearly half of its natural forest cover since 1985. The island’s forests were cleared and converted at a rate of 542,000 hectares, or 2.1 percent, per year. More than 80 percent of forest loss occurred in lowland areas, where the most biodiverse and carbon-dense ecosystems are found.
(10/06/2010) The NGO, The Forest Trust (TFT), made international headlines this year after food giant Nestlé chose them to monitor their sustainability efforts. Nestlé’s move followed a Greenpeace campaign that blew-up into a blistering free-for-all on social media sites. For months Nestle was dogged online not just for sourcing palm oil connected to deforestation in Southeast Asia—the focus of Greenpeace’s campaign—but for a litany of perceived social and environmental abuses and Nestlé’s reactions, which veered from draconian to clumsy to stonily silent. The announcement on May 17th that Nestlé was bending to demands to rid its products of deforestation quickly quelled the storm. Behind the scenes, Nestlé and TFT had been meeting for a number of weeks before the partnership was made official. But can TFT ensure consumers that Nestlé is truly moving forward on cutting deforestation from all of its products?
(08/19/2010) Sinar Mas, an Indonesian conglomerate whose holdings include Asia Pulp and Paper, a paper products brand, and PT Smart, a palm oil producer, was sharply rebuked Wednesday over a recent report where it claimed not to have engaged in destruction of forests and peatlands. At least one of its companies, Golden Agri Resources, may now face an investigation for deliberately misleading shareholders in its corporate filings.
(05/17/2010) After a two month campaign against Nestle for its use of palm oil linked to rainforest destruction spearheaded by Greenpeace, the food giant has given in to activists’ demands. The Swiss-based company announced today in Malaysia that it will partner with the Forest Trust, an international non-profit organization, to rid its supply chain of any sources involved in the destruction of rainforests. “Nestle’s actions will focus on the systematic identification and exclusion of companies owning or managing high risk plantations or farms linked to deforestation,” a press release from the company reads, adding that “Nestle wants to ensure that its products have no deforestation footprint.”
(03/26/2010) Last week Nestle, the world’s largest food processor, was caught in a firestorm when it attempted to censor a Greenpeace campaign that targeted its use of palm oil sourced from a supplier accused of environmentally-damaging practices. The incident brought the increasingly raucous debate over palm oil into the spotlight and renewed questions over an industry-backed certification scheme that aims to improve the crop’s environmental performance.
(03/20/2010) The online protest over Nestle’s use of palm oil linked to deforestation in Indonesia continues unabated over the weekend. One only needed to check-in on the Nestle’s Facebook fan page to see that anger and frustration over the company’s palm oil sourcing policies, as well as its attempts to censor a Greenpeace video (and comments online), has sparked a social media protest that is noteworthy for its vehemence, its length, and its bringing to light the issue of palm oil and deforestation to a broader public.
(03/19/2010) In a bold online video, the environmental group Greenpeace cleverly links candy-giant Nestle to oil palm-related deforestation and the deaths of orangutans. Clearly angered over the video, Nestle struck back by having it banned from YouTube and replaced with this statement: “This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by Société des Produits Nestlé S.A.” However Nestle’s reaction to the video only spread it far and wide (see the ad below): social network sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit were all flooded with the ad as well as rising criticism against Nestle—one of the world’s largest food producers—including calls for boycotts.