After years of campaigning by Indonesian and international environmental and social non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the largest paper company in Asia, Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) has announced a new Forest Conservation Policy which - among other commitments - extends an immediate moratorium on logging in natural forests to all its suppliers. The controversial paper company was blamed for causing the destruction of up to two million hectares of rainforests in Sumatra, threatening the last habitat of the Sumatran tiger, displacing local communities and causing conflicts and fatalities, and releasing huge amounts of greenhouse gases by converting peatland forests into plantations. Sergio Baffoni of the European Environmental Paper Network (EEPN) said, "It is great to see that the joint effort of many NGOs in Indonesia, Europe and elsewhere, has finally opened the way for a solution. It is difficult to say now if this announcement will really bring about a solution; only its implementation in the field will prove that. Meanwhile EEPN advised companies to keep avoiding any business with APP.
"Unfortunately, APP has a long history of making commitments to WWF, customers and other stakeholders that it has failed to live up to. We hope this time the company does what it promised." commented Nazir Foead of WWF Indonesia.
"APP will not be seen as a responsible company in the marketplace until its new commitments are implemented and resolve the devastating rainforest and human rights crises it has caused in Indonesia." added Lafcadio Cortesi, of Rainforest Action Network.
Even Greenpeace, which negotiated with APP, and hailed the announcement as a major breakthrough in protection for Indonesia’s remaining rain forests, still seems to be cautious: "It’s what happens in the forest that counts and we will be monitoring progress closely, " said Bustar Maitar, of Geenpeace Indonesia.
APP has also committed to work with indigenous communities to protect their traditional lands, to ensure that all affected communities give Fully and Prior Informed Consent to changes in land use and that the legacy of social conflicts are resolved. It has also agreed to protect forested peatland.
APP, which is part of the Sinar Mas conglomerate, is now the third-largest and pulp and paper company in the world, a position achieved by clear-cutting precious Indonesian rainforests. By declaring that it now has sufficient plantation areas to meet the long term demand for their own pulp mills, it admits it has now cleared all the land it needs for plantations. The company has clearly recognised that its bad reputation is an obstacle to expansion of the market for its products and to finding investors for new projects, and this has led to the new forest policy.
There is however a further risk in this process: if the new policy will gain APP access to markets and investors, this will result in a further increase in demand for productivity. The company is already seeking investors to build new mills, including a new pulp mill in South Sumatra with a productivity of two millions tons of pulp per year, which would make it the biggest production line in the world. Sergio Baffoni said, "Ironically, if the new APP forest policy sends a positive message to investors and the mill goes ahead, this could represent the major threat to the policy's implementation, by increasing its need for wood fibers, and thus tempting APP to breach its own commitments." More than 60 NGOs recently wrote an open letter to investors warning of the risks of investment in this new mill.