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Greenpeace and APP: Maybe Someday They’ll Even Be Friends

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Issue date: 
March 5, 2012
Publisher Name: 
Blogs at Wall Street Journal
Shibani Mahtani
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Timber Procurement


The long-running battle between Greenpeace and Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), a giant Indonesian paper company, is heating up again. But this time, there’s a new wrinkle: The two sides are being surprisingly nice to each other – at least for now.

In a report issued Thursday, Greenpeace accused the company of illegally logging a protected species of trees, ramin (Gonystylus), for pulp. The report, which was the product of what Greenpeace says is a year-long undercover investigation, detailed allegations that the global firm — owned by one of Indonesia’s largest conglomerates, the Sinar Mas group — is using ramin logs, an expensive hardwood species protected under local law.

The company’s actions, Greenpeace says, are also driving the Sumatran tiger, protected under international conservation programs, closer to extinction. Both ramin trees and the Sumatran tiger are listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), an international agreement signed by 175 countries, including Indonesia, that aims to protect wildlife.

In response, APP thanked Greenpeace for its trouble, and promised to look into the matter.

“APP is grateful to Greenpeace for bringing this report to our attention,” said a statement issued by APP on Thursday. “We take very seriously any evidence of violation of the regulations concerning the protection of endangered tree species. APP will now study the allegations very closely.”

The statement added that the company would be sending its own team to the Indah Kiat mill, one of Indonesia’s largest pulp mills, where Greenpeace said numerous ramin logs were identified mixed in with other rainforest species.

The civil tone was in sharp contrast to past years, when the two sides locked horns over a variety of allegations.

Among other things, Greenpeace has accused APP of killing tigers and orangutans, which are under threat of extinction, and clearing large chunks of forest in unsustainable ways, with reports carrying titles like “How Sinar Mas is Pulping the Planet” and “How Sinar Mas is Expanding its Empires of Destruction.”

Their campaigns have pushed companies like Mattel Inc., maker of the Barbie Doll, and British-based supermarket giant Tesco to stop sourcing their paper and packaging materials from the company. In 2009, Greenpeace demonstrators clashed with security guards after they held a rally at the entrance of Sinar Mas’ headquarters. In another episode, Greenpeace activists dressed in tuxedos – like Ken dolls — climbed the side of Mattel’s California headquarters with a banner that said “Barbie: It’s Over. I Don’t Date Girls That Are Into Deforestation.”

The Sinar Mas conglomerate, for its part, has also come out swinging in years past, vigorously denying the charges leveled at it and saying it is committed to sustainability is both its Indonesia and China operations, where it also practices forest logging for paper. At one point, APP touted a 2010 report by an outside auditor that accused Greenpeace of fabricating data to slam the company; Greenpeace challenged the validity of the report. APP also blasted the environmental group for targeting toy makers, saying it was “irresponsible to play on the emotions of children and their parents to rehash old, discredited allegations.”

None of that rhetoric was heard in the aftermath of the latest report, though. A press conference held by Greenpeace’s Indonesia branch Thursday to explain out the report was calm and civil, without any banner-hanging or dramatic stunts. Cameramen from the organization stood by filming Indonesian-based officials, who focused on scientific evidence and findings from their investigation in a briefing.

So why is everyone being so civil now? Greenpeace, at least, says it has toned down its rhetoric because it is confident in its research.

“We’re best known for our dramatic actions, but much of our work these days involves painstaking research and investigation,” said James Turner, a spokesperson for the organization. “This was a year-long investigation and we are absolutely confident in our evidence – hence the desire to present it in a calm and unfussy way.”

APP, meanwhile, is working hard to improve its image amid the ongoing deforestation debates, and may feel it’s better to take a more measured tone. It has stocked its website with reports on its “community empowerment” and “sustainable growth” programs, and says it is expanding conservation projects.

Whether the allegations are confirmed by the company’s own investigations remains to be seen. Until then, Greenpeace has also lodged a complaint with Indonesia’s Forestry Ministry, and called for the Sinar Mas group to ban the clearance of peat swamp forest, which is primarily where ramin thrives.

The tree, native to Southeast Asia is medium-sized and branchless, and was in the past used to make furniture and hardwood floors before being labeled a protected species. Permits are needed to log ramin in Indonesia.


Extpub | by Dr. Radut