While Toba Pulp Lestari (TPL) has made some strides towards becoming more environmentally conscious, conservation organizations are still concerned about continued deforestation as demand for dissolving pulp grows.
Graffiti on the side of a building not far from TPL’s switch mill in North Sumatra. It translates to “REJECT TPL,” according to Canopy Executive Director Nicole Rycroft. Photo by Canopy.
The owner of the only mill in Indonesia equipped to produce dissolving pulp, Toba Pulp Lestari (TPL), is being held out as emblematic of the risks the industry’s massive recent growth pose to endangered forests.
Indonesia is not the world’s biggest producer of dissolving pulp, but TPL’s increasing presence in the dissolving pulp market is seen as a major threat to the forests of North Sumatra, where it has a forest concession area of nearly 200,000 hectares just south of the Leuser Ecosystem. The company is also accused of labor abuse practices and human rights violations on its plantation, which provides the lumber for its mill.
Vertical integration is a common feature in the industry. Some 54 percent of the global dissolving pulp trade is handled by just five companies. This is not just a result of business acumen, however; the production of dissolving pulp is a highly inefficient process, with some publications alleging it converts a mere 35 percent of the lumber fed into the mill into dissolving pulp, so it makes sense for companies to have their mills close to their source of lumber, thereby cutting down on transportation costs.
Logged rainforest timber at a TPL concession. Photo taken February 2014 by Canopy.
Given how inefficient the dissolving pulp production process is and the fact that global demand is on the rise, it’s no surprise activists are setting their sights on the industry. And to many, Toba Pulp Lestari deserves special scrutiny.
Toba Pulp Lestari is part of what Rainforest Action Network (RAN) has called “a rogue cartel of companies” controlled by Sukanto Tanoto, who is better known as the owner of Asia Pacific Resources International Ltd. (commonly referred to as APRIL), also a company that has received heavy criticism for its environmental and labor practices.
Rainforest Action Network, which calls TPL “one of the worst actors in pulp and paper,” says that more than 17,000 hectares of natural forest have been destroyed by the company, “impacting or displacing over 13,000 Indigenous people,” according to the group’s on-the-ground partner, Kelompok Studi dan Pengembangan Prakarsa Masyarakat.