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Asia Pulp and Paper – turning a corner or more of the same?

A young Sumatran tiger captured by camera trap in Riau Province, Sumatra, Indonesia © WWF-Indonesia / Tiger survey teamA young Sumatran tiger captured by camera trap in Riau Province, Sumatra, Indonesia © WWF-Indonesia / Tiger survey team

Indonesia has the second largest natural tropical forests on the planet and these have endured continual threats from illegal logging and unsustainable practices for decades.  WWF and many other local and international groups are working to turn these problems around to ensure ‘High Conservation Value Forests’ are left standing.

It would be great to think one of the largest pulp and paper companies in the world – APP – is now becoming part of the solution.  The firm’s recent announcements to stop natural forest conversion would suggest the business is at last responding to years of campaigning, which has often involved targeting timber buyers to drop APP from their supply chains due to the company’s poor environmental record.

This could one of the big success stories of 2013 and environmental groups should give the company every opportunity to reverse a history of damage.  However, according to colleagues in Indonesia, commitments to such a reversal are in doubt.

There is certainly no promise by APP around reforestation or ecological rehabilitation.  Where is the effort to restore so much of what has been lost as a result of the logging practices, which the business now admits to be unacceptable?  Where are the endeavours to boost habitats of critically endangered Sumatran tigers and elephants?  Let’s see a rehabilitation roadmap to back up the company’s refreshed responsibilities.

Sadly, APP’s new plan on no further natural forest conversion is also floundering under scrutiny.  It refers to regions where most of the forest has already been cleared by operations in the supply chain and so there’s not much left to convert!  The plan fails to rule out tropical fibre supplies from other parts of Indonesia or outside the country.  It also does not deal with old supplies (those resulting from forest clearance before APP’s new commitments came into play) and this loophole also opens up possibilities for supplies from new deforestation entering the supply chain.  All mills associated with APP should stop accepting tropical forest fibre, full stop.

Another critical weakness is the continued lack of transparency.  The disclosure on existing and new timber supplies remains low and the terms for engaging civil society – so critical for arriving at inclusive solutions after decades of confrontation – can best be described as opaque, rife with non-disclosure agreements.  Credibility will arrive through full disclosure on the firm’s future progress and the smart option is to use an independent forest certification body to provide objective and transparent audits.

Our hope is that we see a real turn around by the company, but until these issues are resolved, the recommendation to buyers of timber products remains – don’t buy APP.

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