NGOs accuse pulp and paper giant of ‘dodging inquiry’ into deforestation practices

Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL) has been accused of dodging an independent inquiry into its deforestation practices in Indonesia after the company recently withdrew from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

Greenpeace, the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) and WWF lodged a complaint last month with the FSC that APRIL was in violation of FSC’s Policy for Association through its “continued large-scale conversion of natural forests in Indonesia to plantations, including the destruction of high conservation value (HCV) forests”.

On June 22, the FSC announced that APRIL had asked its certification bodies to withdraw all of its FSC Chain of Custody (COC) certificates.

In a statement responding to FSC’s announcement, APRIL said that its decision “not to hold or seek FSC CoC/CW certification for the foreseeable future is based on concerns about the FSC’s Policy for Association”.

It added that the FSC’s current Policy for Association criteria act as a “disincentive for companies” in developing countries to engage with the FSC system.

“The withdrawal from FSC by companies associated with APRIL is linked to our viewpoint that current FSC policies are not supporting development and have the effect of inhibiting developing countries from making sustainable use of their land. This is a particular concern for industrial plantation companies operating in Asia,” the statement continued.

However, environmental groups stressed that the FSC Policy for Association is in place to ensure that the FSC only associates with companies committed to fundamental principles of responsible forest management.

It requires that a company holding FSC CoC certificates must not be involved in the conversion of HCV forest and must not have converted an area of forest covering more than 10,000 ha within the past five years.

WWF-Indonesia’s Coordinator for the Global Forest Trade Network Programme, Aditya Bayunanda, said: “By quitting the FSC, APRIL is avoiding independent scrutiny of its operations as presented in the NGO’s formal complaint to the FSC. It is effectively admitting its deforestation practices are incompatible with the FSC.

“Between 2007 and 2012, APRIL and its suppliers in Riau have converted close to 200,000 ha of Sumatra’s rainforests to plantations. Much of that was vital forest habitat for critically endangered Sumatran elephants and tigers,” added Bayunanda.

Forest Campaign director at RAN, Lafcadio Cortesi, said: “Companies like APRIL that are dependent on rainforest destruction are provoking social conflict through a failure to respect customary rights over land. Such operations are clearly unsustainable.

“By walking away from the FSC, APRIL is sending a clear signal to the market that it has no intention of stopping its destructive operations. Contrary claims by APRIL are no more than greenwash.”

WWF, Greenpeace and RAN are calling on APRIL to immediately stop all natural forest clearance in all of its own and suppliers’ concession and commit to a comprehensive zero deforestation policy as first steps.

The NGOs are also calling on the FSC to ensure that any company associated with deforestation are not allowed to hold FSC certificates.

Leigh Stringer

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