Site icon Conservation news

Activists target Roger Federer as brand ambassador for bank linked to deforestation

 Pulau Padang, Riau, by RGE / APRIL
Cleared peat forest and a drainage canal in PT RAPP’s concession on Pulau Padang, Riau. Courtesy of the Bruno Manser Fund.

Environmentalists are asking tennis star Roger Federer to deliver a message to Credit Suisse over the banking giant’s continued financing of a logging company linked to ongoing destruction of wildlife habitat in Indonesia.

According to the Bruno Manser Fund, a Swiss activist group, two members of a rainforest community in Sumatra have written to Federer (the letter) to ask for his help in persuading Credit Suisse to stop financing logging of peat forests on Pulau Padang, an island off the coast of Sumatra. Federer has been targeted because he is a brand ambassador for Credit Suisse, which has brokered loans for Royal Golden Eagle Group (RGE), a conglomerate that owns Asia Pacific Resources International Limited’s Riau Andalan Pulp & Paper (PT RAPP), the company that is clearing the forests for industrial timber plantations.

“We are writing to you to ask for your urgent assistance to help us save our community lands and to stop illegal logging and deforestation in our unique tropical peatland forests,” Isnadi Esman and Woro Supartinah, members of Bagan Melibur, a village on Pulau Padang, wrote. “In particular, we are asking you to use your influence as brand ambassador of the Swiss bank, Credit Suisse, to convince the bank managers to stop funding the Royal Golden Eagle Group (RGE) whose subsidiary, Asia Pacific Resources International Holdings (APRIL) is responsible for the destruction of our rainforests.”

Federer at a Credit Suisse event.

Esman and Supartinah are presently in Zurich meet Credit Suisse officials, according to the Bruno Manser Fund. Both are members of local environmental groups that have been battling RAPP over its operations on Pulau Padang. Communities oppose RAPP due to fears that conversion of peatlands will undermine their livelihoods, including sago cultivation and fishing. Environmentalists are concerned that clearance and drainage of the area will risk the structural integrity of the low-lying island while releasing large amounts of carbon and destroying the habitat of endangered birds and mammals.

“Our ancestors have been living in Pulau Padang since 1850,” Esman and Supartinah explained in the letter. “We were living in peace with people and nature, including the forest. People lived from farming, others from fishing. In 2011, PT. RAPP (RGE/APRIL’s subsidiary) came. Things then became totally different ever since. The company started to clear our forest, taking our farms and homes.”

“We tried to object against the destruction of our livelihoods. Once, 82 villagers from Pulau Padang went to Jakarta, asking for attention and support from different parties not to let the company take their land. As a sign of protest, 28 of our people even sewed their mouths!”

The mouth-sewing protest garnered international headlines, pushing PT RAPP to reach an agreement with communities in 2012. However the company is continuing to cut down trees on deep peat, despite a sustainability commitment announced with much fanfare last year, including cautious support from conservation giant WWF.

Village boundary of Bagan Melibur, Pulau Padang, Riau, in May 2014 before clearing by RGE/APRIL

Same place in October 2014 after clearcutting by RGE / APRIL. Courtesy of the Bruno Manser Fund.

Given the ongoing activity, environmentalists have stepped up campaigns against PT RAPP and its parent companies APRIL and RGE. Greenpeace, BankTrack, Rainforest Action Network, and Eyes on the Forest have increasingly targeted banks financing the activity, including Credit Suisse, Santander, and ABN/AMRO. But while the latter two banks have agreed to cease lending, Credit Suisse hasn’t clarified its position on the issue. Green groups note that Credit Suisse’s lending appears to substantially breach its own sustainability policy.

The campaigns, which have targeted both financiers and fiber buyers, have dramatically ratcheted up pressure on APRIL/RGE to adopt a deforestation-free commitment like that signed by Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), its largest competitor. The campaigns are also putting heat on WWF, which continues to engage with APRIL via the forestry giant’s “Stakeholder Advisory Committee” meant to steer its operations toward greener practices.

WWF has not responded to multiple requests for comment from Mongabay on the issue, but its Indonesian partner Eyes on the Forest has issued several reports critical of APRIL/RGE, including providing documentation of ongoing peatland clearing.

Global Forest Watch map showing a concession on Pulau Pedang island run by APRIL’s subsidiary PT Riau Andalan Pulp Paper (RAPP). Data from Global Forest Watch shows that 5,878 hectares of trees were cleared in the concession between 2001 and 2012.

Once APRIL/RGE stops clearing rainforests, it will join a growing number of companies that have publicly committed to social and environmental safeguards for commodity sourcing and production. These commitments are important because food and fiber production is the biggest direct driver of tropical deforestation, which accounts for roughly ten percent of greenhouse gas emissions and is one of the gravest threats to wildlife globally. Environmentalists hope these “deforestation-free” companies will then push governments to adopt and enforce policies that drive forest conservation and restoration instead of forest destruction and degradation.

24-APRIL UPDATE: APRIL has issued a statement questioning the credibility of Isnadi Esman and Woro Supartinah and contesting elements of their letter.