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Certification body officially terminates ties with controversial logging company

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) has formally ended its association with Indonesian logging giant Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL), reports the forest products certification body.

The move, announced last week, came after APRIL said it would withdraw from the FSC due to the eco-labeling initiative’s rules on recent forest conversion.

“The decision by APRIL and companies associated with APRIL not to hold or seek FSC CoC/CW certification for the foreseeable future is based on concerns about the FSC’s Policy for Association,” APRIL told via email in June. “This renders ineligible for FSC certification companies which are part of a group that has converted more than 10,000 hectares [of forest] within the past five years.”

Environmentalists however characterized APRIL’s decision as a way to avoid scrutiny of its practices.

“Before an NGO-initiated FSC complaint process even had an opportunity to begin to investigate APRIL’s deforestation practices, the company had effectively walked out on the FSC’s certification scheme,” Bustar Maitar of Greenpeace Southeast Asia wrote in a June blog post. “Seemingly, APRIL did not want to risk the scrutiny of FSC’s Policy for Association complaints process.”

“By withdrawing from the FSC before it was kicked out, APRIL seems to be hoping to avoid the embarrassing publicity that it is, indeed, linked to forest destruction.”

The FSC’s termination means that APRIL can no longer use the FSC label on its products, which range from paper to cardboard packaging to cellulose used in cigarette filters. Should APRIL seek FSC certification in the future, “a robust due diligence process would be required”, according to the statement from the group.

“Because of the allegations made by the environmental NGOs in their complaint, which were in part acknowledged by APRIL, any company linked to APRIL – including companies tied to the Royal Golden Eagle Group (of which APRIL is a part) – would be subject to scrutiny before being considered for FSC certification,” said the FSC.

APRIL continues to hold certification under the PEFC (Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification), another standard that greens say is weaker on environmental safeguards than FSC. Accordingly, WWF-Indonesia is calling for PEFC to also dissociate from Royal Golden Eagle group, the Singapore-based conglomerate that owns APRIL.

“If the PEFC standards are as rigorous in safeguarding natural forest, the organization would follow the lead of the FSC and distance itself from all RGE group companies,” said Aditya Bayunanda of WWF-Indonesia in a statement.

APRIL — Indonesia’s second largest pulp and paper producer — has been targeted for years by environmental groups on account of its forest management practices, which involve large-scale conversion of natural forests and peatlands on the island of Sumatra for industrial timber plantations. While APRIL maintains it operates within the law and embraces key concepts of environmental sustainability, at times it has faced strong opposition from local communities, including a 2011 incident where villagers sewed their mouths shut to protest planned logging of a community forest.

As a multi-stakeholder body where standards are put to a vote by members with a diverse array of interests, the FSC itself has not escaped criticism. Some logging companies say its criteria are too strict, cutting into profitability while generating lucrative fees for auditors. Meanwhile some environmentalists complain the standard is too weak, green-lighting first-time logging in primary forests.

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