Asia Pacific Resources International Holdings Limited (APRIL) has suspended a contractor and a plantation manager after environmentalists exposed deforestation that violates the logging giant’s sustainability policy.
In a statement issued Friday, APRIL said it “regrets” the breach and is investigating the matter.
“APRIL regrets that there has been a breach of an important policy commitment on our concession area at Pulau Padang,” said the statement. “We are deeply disappointed and understand the seriousness of this breach. We are taking immediate disciplinary action with those involved and reviewing all our processes to ensure this does not happen again.”
The clearing was identified by Greenomics after the Indonesian environmental group analyzed NASA Landsat images. The area consists of peat forest.
The activity directly violates APRIL’s 2014 sustainability policy, which committed it to ending clearing of natural forests and forested peatlands by the end of last year.
APRIL blamed PT. Rimba Prima Mas, a contractor, for the breach, which it asserted was part of a plan to create a “plantation buffer” to protect an area of forest from encroachment.
“Following input from a key stakeholder, APRIL agreed to set aside 1,500 hectares of additional conservation areas at Pulau Padang above and beyond the conservation of identified HCV areas,” it said. “When this area began to suffer from the effects of encroachment, we undertook to create a plantation buffer to protect the remaining conservation area from further encroachment. This activity was not completed prior to 31 December 2014 as we had committed to.”
However APRIL has for years claimed that its conversion of peat forests in Sumatra serves a greater conservation purpose, arguing that plantations buffer high conservation value forests from small farmers and illegal loggers.
But environmentalists have pointed out that the company is in fact destroying high conservation value areas when chops down forests for plantations. Furthermore, in developing these plantations APRIL has drained vast areas of peatlands, driving carbon emissions and creating conditions that exacerbate haze-causing fires.
The latest incident comes after months of complaints about APRIL’s ongoing clearing of peat forests and stepped up campaigns by activists aiming to push it toward adopting a zero deforestation policy like its competitor Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), which signed such a commitment in 2013.
The pulp and paper sector has been one of the most important drivers of deforestation in Sumatra over the past thirty years, during which time the island’s lowland forest cover shrunk by more than half.