Global Paper Company — and Clients —Under Fire for Deforestation

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In its ongoing campaign to draw attention to Indonesia’s deforestation woes, Greenpeace has released a new report singling out Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), one of the world’s largest paper companies owned by Indonesian conglomerate Sinar Mas, for sourcing trees from rainforest and peatland that are home to endangered species like the Sumatran tiger and the orangutan.

The report, “How Sinar Mas Is Pulping the Planet,” examines activity in two forest areas on the western island of Sumatra, claiming that APP uses logs from both areas — one of which is home to important endangered species and one of which is home to deep peatland that stores carbon — in its product which is exported around the world. It also claims APP has been expanding its activity in these fragile areas.

The report singles out some of APP’s big global customers — Walmart, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Hewlett Packard, and Carrefour, to name a few — and calls on them to end their association with Sinar Mas’ environmentally questionable, and in some cases potentially illegal, practices. (Read the report here.)

APP sustainability managing director Aida Greenbury has denied the veracity of the report’s claims to several news outlets, including the Financial Times and the New York Times, saying that she had warned Greenpeace to get its facts straight before going ahead with the publication.

It’s not the first time Sinar Mas has been in the group’s crosshairs. The family-owned company also produces palm oil which several groups have claimed comes from cleared rainforest and peatland. Peat, an amazing sort of deep turf composed of years of old forest, stores huge amounts of carbon and, when cleared, releases that carbon into the atmosphere. The burning of peatland to make way for agricultural crops, including palm oil plantations, has helped make Indonesia one of the world’s largest carbon emitters despite its lack of signficant heavy industry.  (Here’s a video I shot at a Greenpeace activist camp protesting palm oil plantations in the province of Riau, Sumatra, in 2007.)

The report isn’t likely to get a lot of love in Jakarta either, which has been trying to turn its loggers-gone-wild rep around. In May, Indonesia and Norway signed a deal in which Indonesia agreed to a two-year moratorium on issuing new permits to cut down virgin forest and peatland, in exchange for $1 billion in aid from the rich northern state (also a big paper producer) to make that happen. The plan is part of Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation, or REDD, an international scheme in which industrialized nations could earn carbon credits by paying nations not to cut down trees, and one of the few bright spots at last winter’s Copenhagen climate talks.

Unfortunately, that’s easier said on paper than done in the area’s where paper is sourced. The southeast Asian archipelago’s sheer size and decentralized governance make it almost impossible for ministers in Jakarta to oversee what’s going at the local level, presenting a serious challenge to controlling the protection of remote patches of rainforest and peatland sprinkled around the country.