Three environmental watchdogs on Tuesday commended the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) for ending its association with Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL), an Indonesian paper and pulp corporation that is allegedly guilty of deforestation and other malpractices.
The company, which is known for its PaperOne brand, is now banned from using the council’s eco-label to market its products.
According to the international certificating body, the firm violated its Policy for Association or the fundamental principles espousing responsible forest management.
However, in a rebuttal statement, APRIL called this “factually inaccurate”. They said, “As the FSC is aware, APRIL Indonesia had already ended its formal association with FSC in 2011 and other companies associated with APRIL proactively withdrew from FSC certification of their own volition earlier this year. Characterising FSC’s procedural completion of that process as a ‘termination’ misrepresents the actual chain of events.”
The events this year started when Greenpeace, WWF Indonesia and the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) filed a complaint last May. The three non-government organisations detailed how APRIL destroyed high conservation value (HCV) forests in large-scale conversions to create their plantations. They also documented social conflicts and human rights violations that are in contradiction to corporate social responsibilities.
Since the filing, however, and while the FSC began its own motion to address the objection, APRIL avoided any further inquiry to its alleged malpractice by withdrawing its chain-of-custody certificates. These FSC certificates are proof of a firm’s sustainable operations, meaning its goods are manufactured in accordance to a set of international guidelines.
One example of such a requirement is that the company must not have converted an area of natural forest covering more than 10,000 hectares within the past five years. But APRIL has supposedly breached this stipulation, according to the environmental groups in a previous joint statement.
APRIL and its affiliated Royal Garden Eagle (RGE) group are now disallowed to carry the FSC trademark. The large conglomerate is owned by Sukanto Tanoto, one of Indonesia’s wealthiest businessmen – listed in the elite ranking of Forbes magazine – whose assets are worth more than $12 billion and with a total employee count of 50,000 worldwide.
Its sister firms include Sateri, which is divided into Bahia Specialty Cellulose in Brazil and Sateri Jiangxi in China, and Toba Pulp Lestari in Indonesia. These manufacturers produce ingredients used in everyday consumer products such as cigarette filters, baby wipes, textiles, eyeglass frames, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, ice cream, and tires, said the environmentalists.
APRIL and these companies can no longer apply for any FSC certification, even FSC chain-of-custody certificates. In the statement released by the council, they said, “In the future, before FSC re-enters into a new association with APRIL a robust due diligence process would be required.”
“APRIL’s suppliers alone are estimated to clear around 60,000 hectares of rainforest, making Tanoto the largest driver of deforestation for pulp in Indonesia, if not the world,” said Bustar Maitar from Greenpeace.
For WWF Indonesia, Aditya Bayunanda said, “The FSC has acted rapidly to disassociate its brand from the activities of APRIL and its affiliated companies. However, APRIL still holds chain-of-custody certificates granted through the industry-led PEFC forest certification scheme. If the [Programme for Endorsement of Forest Certification] standards are as rigorous in safeguarding natural forest, the organisation would follow the lead of the FSC and distance itself from all RGE group companies.”
PEFC is another international certification and eco-label provider like the FSC. But unlike the latter, the former operates through a network of third-party certifications to promote sustainable forest management. The PEFC also does not have a policy or process of disassociation, shared WWF.
As of press time, the PEFC has not issued any statement on the NGOs’ request.
RAN’s Christy Tennery noted, “This move [by the FSC] is a clear signal to paper and textile buyers, as well as the broader corporate community, that APRIL and Sukanto Tanoto’s other businesses are rogue companies.”
“FSC’s decision, and the shocking cases of land conflict and rainforest conversion raised in our complaint, demonstrates that doing business with any of Tanoto’s companies poses significant risk to customer brands and investors,” she explained.
Still, APRIL, in its latest statement, did not acknowledge the basis of FSC’s decision to terminate the association. Instead, they gave the reason for withdrawing from the council: “Companies in Indonesia, including APRIL Indonesia, have been in the process of plantation establishment to create a renewable and sustainable source of wood fibre under Government license over recent years, which under the Policy for Association would render them ineligible for FSC certification.”
The paper and pulp corporation also recently launched APRIL Dialog, a new corporate blog where they will present information on company operations and forestry developments in Indonesia. Part of the blog contains sections on “The Real Causes of Deforestation in Indonesia” and “Accusations and Insights”.