APP deserves credit for stopping natural forest clearance, despite its late conversion to the cause, says Toby Webb

Asia Pulp & Paper’s recent shift from environmental villain to natural forest protector has been well documented. For 10 years the company was at the sharp end of one of the longest and most bitterly fought campaigns by conservation NGOs. Primary among these was Greenpeace, with Rainforest Action Network and WWF also very active.

This campaign resulted in the company losing an unknown amount of business. Some say billions of dollars. All major brands associated with the company eventually made sure their supply chains were APP-free. Finally the pressure told and the company relented. Critics say this was only when the company became self-sufficient in plantation fibre in Indonesia.

Beginning on January 31 2013, APP put in place a moratorium on natural forest clearance across its 38 owned and independent suppliers’ concessions in Indonesia. APP is working with the Forest Trust, an NGO, which has helped develop APP’s forest conservation policy and is assisting with its implementation.

Several breaches of the moratorium have been alleged since the 2013 launch. These have been investigated by the Forest Trust and APP. Two were confirmed and reported on publicly. APP self-disclosed the third. In total these breaches have led to about 140 hectares of natural forest being destroyed. This is out of 2.6m hectares of APP concession area.

So it’s fair to say that the company has clearly stopped cutting natural forest. A little has been cut by accident by suppliers, and, in one of the breaches, forest was cleared as a result of a community livelihood agreement. 

The Forest Trust is now undertaking high carbon stock assessments of APP’s concession areas across Indonesia, and what’s called high conservation value assessments are also under way. The aim is to understand which bits of remaining natural forest are the most rich in both carbon and biodiversity by July 2014.

The results and recommendations of this assessment work will be used to create integrated sustainable forest management plans. These will govern how APP manages its concessions and influences land use around these in future. A forest conservation monitoring dashboard, run by the Forest Trust, allows anyone to monitor implementation of APP’s progress on a real-time basis.

So far so good. But will APP’s progress be rewarded by the market? 

Enough progress? 

Rainforest Action Network believes it is too early for customers to return. It says the company has not yet demonstrated enough progress, particularly given past collapsed NGO deals. WWF, meanwhile, wants to see APP address its legacy of forest destruction and set out plans for restoration before customers return.

Greenpeace has taken a more nuanced position, suggesting that customers wishing to resume trade with APP must link contracts and procurement to continued delivery of the forest conservation policy.

The RAN and WWF position is wrong-headed. Companies that take embedded leadership positions, as APP now has, must be rewarded as soon as big companies buying from them can credibly return.

Having spent a week in the midst of one of APP’s concessions recently (and it was by no means a Potemkin village), I agree with Greenpeace.

On my trip I saw, with GPS tracker, camera and maps in hand, from a helicopter, by boat and on foot, how the company is the only actor in parts of Sumatra that is trying to protect what is left of the natural forest. The Indonesian government’s wildlife park, bordering on APP’s Bukit Batu concession, was on fire, as “locals” (hard to say who is and who isn’t local) cleared swathes of it, illegally, for palm oil plantations.

The brutal reality of Indonesian deforestation is utterly shocking when you see it for yourself. APP has been responsible for much of it. But the company is the best chance Indonesia has of saving what is left. Assisted by the Forest Trust and monitored by Greenpeace, APP really does appear very serious about sustainability.

Large companies sourcing pulp and paper should reward APP with procurement contracts that are linked to the implementation of the Forest Conservation Policy.

Office supplies giant Staples has done this already. After a five-year sourcing gap and a site inspection, the company has taken a bold step of beginning to buy again from APP on the basis of further close inspections and Rainforest Alliance’s evaluations. Sustainability leadership often means taking leaps of faith based on both evidence and trends.

APP’s commitments offer an opportunity for buyers both to reward systemic progress and to show other companies that making serious progress will likewise be rewarded by the market.

Toby Webb is founder of Ethical Corporation and Stakeholder Intelligence. He blogs at He was in Indonesia as a guest of APP.

Asia Pulp & Paper  Greenpeace  Indonesia  Palm Oil  rainforest 

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