The Indonesian paper giant Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) announced a new audit to prove that it was wrongly accused to clear natural rainforests in Indonesia. The audit, however, was conducted by the same people that are involved in its PR efforts, raising questions about the company's commitment to cleaning up its operations. The audit notes discrepancies in concession maps, but it doesn't actually deny that APP is clearing forests and peatlands for pulp plantations.
In fact, the audit effectively confirms that the company is indeed engaged in conversion of 'deep' peat areas, but argues that this activity isn't illegal under Indonesian law: "The blanket illegality of the 'three metre rule' is therefore not clear-cut. The conditions of the decree permit any number of industrial activities within peatland areas, including mining, forestry and agriculture," states the audit.
APP hired ITS Global (International Trade Strategies Global), a firm that is owned by Alan Oxley, who also heads World Growth International, a group that lobbies on behalf of APP's parent company Sinar Mas. ITS Global is by no means an independent auditor - it effectively does public relations for Sinar Mas. In other words, it has no credibility, as suggested by Mongabay.
World Growth International is perhaps best known for its breathless rants against various green groups (Greenpeace, the Rainforest Action Network, Friends of the Earth, and WWF-Indonesia), efforts to conserve forests and limit climate change, and complaints about environmental transgressions by Sinar Mas holding companies (especially APP and palm oil producer Sinar Mas Agro Resources and Technology - SMART, which is a subsidiary of Golden Agri Resources, a Singapore-listed firm). Its reports have falsely claimed that oil palm plantations sequester more carbon than rainforests and that at present the leading cause of deforestation is subsistence agriculture, rather than enterprise-driven activities. World Growth reports have dismissed other important environmental concerns, including emissions from conversion of peatlands for plantations and loss of habitat for threatened species including orangutans and Sumatran tigers.
The audit complains that Greenpeace cites habitat loss at the biggest threat to Sumatran tigers, while glossing over the biggest cause of mortality: poaching. The audit also presents some clearly misleading claims. It says that Indonesia is not the world's third largest greenhouse gas emitter, despite a report from the country's National Climate Change Council (DNPI) showing that Indonesia trails only China and the United States in emissions. The audit tries to muddy the issue by mentioning per capita greenhouse gas emissions and emissions excluding land use, while citing other irrelevant data on Indonesia's total forest. The audit suggests that the palm oil and pulp and paper industries are not major drivers of greenhouse gas emissions in Indonesia, while recent research has shown that more than half of oil palm expansion between 1990 and 2005 came at the expense of native forests in Indonesia, and that it, along with logging and timber plantations, are the biggest causes of forest conversion in the country.
The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) threatened the company with expulsion due to "serious non-compliance with the RSPO Code of Conduct."
Burger King publicly cancelled its contract, stating that the audit raised "valid concerns about some of the sustainability practices of Sinar Mas' palm oil production and its impact on the rainforest [...] As a result, we have decided we will no longer purchase palm oil from Sinar Mas or its subsidiaries." This follows other international companies cancelling contracts pulp or palm divisions, including Kraft, Nestl_¸, Unilever, and a host of others.
Read the APP 'audit'
Read the answer provided by Greenpeace
"A careful examination of the evidence shows that the Greenpeace report is highly misleading and simply not defensible. The claim about a secret massive company expansion in Indonesia is based on fiction." said Oxley, whose firm was engaged by APP to conduct the audit.
Greenpeace claims APP secretly planned to dramatically expand its concessions by 900,000 hectares between 2007 and 2009, basing its charge on a supposed in-house document the group has refused to reveal. According to the audit, APP's supplier concession increased by just over 25,000 hectares during that time and there is no evidence the expansion plan was ever company policy. Greenpeace supports its claim with maps it produced marking out APP concession areas. The map in the Greenpeace report showed four concessions that don't exist.
The reality is that ITS Global use an outdated map with incomplete concession data, while Greenpeace used 2010 Ministry of Forestry digital maps, the most recent maps publicly available. As a consequence of using outdated and incomplete concession data, ITS Global wrongly assumes that four areas identified by Greenpeace as belonging to Sinar Mas are not concession areas at all.
ITS Global concludes that if areas are controlled by other companies, Sinar Mas cannot target them for expanding its own operations.ª_ However, as Sinar Mas' internal presentation makes clear, the company's business model is based on buy-outs of other companies holding logging or plantation concessions. Sinar Mas, however, did not provide ITS Global with up-to-date data of concession areas.
A primary source cited throughout the Greenpeace report is an internal Sinarmas Forestry presentation showing its 'area development project for supporting mill license capacity' (ITS Global acknowledges in its audit that the internal Sinarmas Forestry presentation exists). Sinarmas Forestry, also part of the Sinar Mas Group, is the "exclusive supplier" to APP. The project was sponsored by the head of APP, Teguh Ganda Widjaja, and his brother, head of Sinarmas Forestry, Muktar Widjaja. The presentation identifies concession areas targeted by Sinar Mas for acquisition from 2006. These targeted areas cover a total of 2.9 million hectares, some 900,000 hectares of which are in the Sumatran provinces of Riau and Jambi.
The latest Ministry of Forestry maps used by Greenpeace show that in a number of cases these concessions were acquired after Sinarmas Forestry's internal presentation was produced. For example, two areas the targeted for expansion in the presentation, PT Rimba Hutani Mas and PT Artelindo Wiratama, came under Sinar Mas control in 2007.
The Greenpeace report asserts that APP is playing a major role in expanding greenhouse gas emissions by damaging valuable peatland. The report cites a series of maps whose author admits have a margin of error of up to 31 percent. Indonesia's leading agricultural university assesses the margin of error of those maps to be as high as 90 percent. According to the audit Greenpeace's claim that APP is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions is not legitimate.
ITS Global fails to provide any evidence to support this allegation. Careful reading of the background material provided by Wetlands International confirms that in many areas, the margin of error is estimated to be as little as 12.5 per cent 36 and in the worst case it is only 31 per cent.
The Wetlands International's peat swampland maps are widely recognised as the best available landscape level peat swampland maps. For example, they were used by the Indonesian government's National Council on Climate Change (DNPI) to calculate Indonesia's greenhouse gas abatement cost curve in August 2010.
Sinar Mas however has failed to make public its own independent assessments of High Conservation Value (HCV) forest cover, peatland and wildlife habitat and other social or ecological values for public scrutiny.
ITS Global does not challenge the validity and accuracy of the photographic evidence of forest clearing by APP linked operations. It also fails to obtain and use APP - Sinar Mas' assessments of High Conservation Value Forests in its concessions in order to identify and. Nor does ITS Global deny that Sinar Mas engages in deep peat clearance or the clearance of identified tiger habitat, it just states that poaching kills more tigers.
Large area of good natural forest in Bukit Tigapuluh landscape being cleared in a concession of PT. Artelindo Wiratama, an APP associated company, released by Eyes on the Fortest