APP is a subsidary of Sinar Mas and has in the past been criticised by environmental groups for illegal logging, and encroaching into carbon-rich peat forests and the habitat of tigers and orangutans. As a result of lobbying, quite a few major brands around the world decided to boycott APP products, which include tissues and toilet paper.
In fact as we've reported before on Connect Asia, this is an ongoing battle... between environmentalists, in particular Greenpeace... and APP, which is backed by PR companies, scientists paid by the company to promote its plantation logging and a range of loosely linked pro-business groups that attack Greenpeace. As part of APP's global push, it's trying to recast its image in a more environmentally responsible light, something environmentalists dismiss as greenwashing. Yesterday, Asia Pulp and Paper held a closed-door 'certification workshop' in Sydney, and outside Greenpeace campaigners dressed as orangutans accussed the company of destroying rainforests.
Presenter: Liam Cochrane
Speaker: Reece Turner, Greenpeace Forests Campaigner
COCHRANE: Reece Turner, exactly what were you protesting against yesterday?
TURNER: Yeah, good morning Liam. The reason we held a protest yesterday morning was because, as you said, Asia Pulp and Paper is affiliate Solaris here in Australia were holding an ostensible workshop on certification and they were talking up their environmental credibility and many Australian companies would have been invited there to view what Asia Pulp and Paper have to say about their environmental standards. So we thought it was only fair that we point out to these Australian companies who might be consider entering into contractions with Asia Pulp and Paper that this is not an uncontroversial company and they need to know about the controversies surrounding this company.
COCHRANE: And there's been a lot of newspaper pages and minutes of broadcast devoted to those controversies. But let's talk about right now, what are the problems with the company right now in your view?
TURNER: Right now, part of the workshop as was on the information that the company used to promote this was talking about how the company seeks to only source its fibre from plantation stock by 2015. Now that sounds all well and good and it's an admirable objective. The problem is that this company had that achievement back in 2004. It wanted to do it by 2007 and failed to do so. It then reset its target for 2009 and once again failed and that's because it's continuing to acquire concessions in Indonesia of rainforests, orangatang habitats and carbon rich peat lands. So it's using a whole lot of greenwash and PR spin and on the ground, there's a completelly different story.
COCHRANE: Now the company has in the past rejected the claims that Greenpeace has made and says they're just factually incorrect. How confident are you of your current protest points?
TURNER: Greenpeace has been on the ground for over ten years in Indonesia and we've been producing report after report, having a look at what APP is doing down the ground. Unfortunately they continue to spend more and more on their PR companies and their spin, rather than address what is happening on the ground. For example, the company is saying they're using a certification called PEFC. However, there are no forestry operations in Indonesia that are actually certified under this certification scheme, none of their mills are and in fact they have to import certified pulp and put it through their pulp machines as a way to cover the vast majority of their operations which are highly controversial and which include rainforest deforestation.
COCHRANE: APP is running some programs attempting to improve their environmental reputation. One of them is a carbon sink project with Dorjee Sun. They're also giving money to tiger NGOs. Don't you think they should be given some credit for taking some steps to improve their previously poor reputation?
TURNER: I would like to think that they are taking more steps, but unfortunately, the reality at the moment is that the kinds of areas that they are preserving, the area that they are conserving for this tiger habitat, for example, is completely outweighed by the amount of concessions that they're looking at logging and that they continue to do so. There have been other attempts by environmental organisations to engage with Asia Pulp and Paper in the past. For example, WF used to talk with APP and wanted to get it on track towards improving its environmental standards and a few years ago, has fallen out with APP. Rainforest Alliance has done the same thing, so there is a long history of environment groups seeking to engage with this company and then basically exiting because they found that behind the facade there's no leadership or will to actually carry out these environmental programs. We said to Asia Pulp and Paper that we were willing to sit down and talk to them once they can really demonstrate that they're serious and that means that they need to commit to ending rainforest deforestation, a deforestation of high conservation values forests.
COCHRANE: Reece Turner, just very briefly, we're running out of time. But just briefly, your protest was trying to I guess sway the Australian companies that might be looking to take on APP products. Do you believe you had much affect there? Did you have any direct contact with the companies?
TURNER: Well, I think the companies certainly would have, had the impression that this is not an uncontroversial company and I think we got that message really clearly. Woolworths in fact dropped the products of APP a few years ago, because the unions campaigned very heavily against them because of the labour standards the company uses in Indonesia. So I think it's really important these companies really are aware of what's happening in Indonesia by this company.
COCHRANE: Reece Turner, thanks very much for your time this morning.
TURNER: Thanks Liam.
COCHRANE: That's Greenpeace Forest campaigner, Reece Turner. And we did try and contact Australian Public Relations representatives this morning, but to date haven't heard back. But if you'd like to go back and check out both sides of the story, you can type in 'connect asia' and 'asia pulp paper' into your search engine and you'll find there a range of stories, including an interview with APP's manager for sustainability defending the company, you'll find details of the carbon sink project in Sumatra and the claims by Greenpeace that the company is simply employing green PR rather than green practices as we've just heard from Reece Turner. Have a read, make up you're own mind and you can let us know what you think by email, SMS or even by Twitter. The details of our contacts are at radioaustralia.net.au/connectasia.