Today, Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) released the first independent evaluation of its progress to implement its commitment to zero deforestation and its Forest Conservation Policy (FCP) announced in February 2013.  The evaluation concludes that the company has made moderate progress towards meeting its commitments, but it also highlighted a number of shortcoming that need to be addressed.  The evaluation report, which assesses the period between 5 February 2013 and 15 August 2014, provides a view of the company’s progress towards meeting the FCP, as well as additional public statements made by APP that are relevant to the FCP.

APP asked Rainforest Alliance to conduct an independent evaluation of APP’s progress to meet commitments made in the FCP. Rainforest Alliance and other stakeholders requested the evaluation of additional relevant public statements found in APP’s Sustainability Roadmap – Vision 2020 framework, APP’s 2014 Year 1 Summary of FCP Progress, and public responses to inputs by Greenpeace and the Environmental Paper Network (EPN).

In the past, APP has been criticized for extensive clearance of rainforest areas in Sumatra and Kalimantan, many of which are located on carbon rich peatlands. The development and operation of plantations in these areas is a major source of Indonesia’s greenhouse gas emissions driving its emissions to third largest of any nation. The company’s deforestation legacy includes the clearance of vital rainforest habitat for species such as the critically endangered Sumatran tiger, and far too often created social conflict over forestland by failing to respect human rights.  Following global campaigns and significant pressure from customers, APP introduced a bold, new set of policies to reform, and enlisted The Forest Trust to assist in its internal implementation and reporting.

“Overall, the progress to meet the commitments varies.”  – Rainforest Alliance evaluation

Richard Donovan, Rainforest Alliance Senior Vice President of Forestry, said in releasing the evaluation, “In 2013 APP set out an ambitious program for change. The Rainforest Alliance has found that APP has made moderate progress to implement the many commitments embedded in its FCP during the 18 month period we evaluated. Key steps have been taken, such as halting the clearance of natural forest by its suppliers. As with any major change initiative there remains work to be done to put the policies and procedures that have been developed into action in the field. Rainforest Alliance encourages APP to continue on the path set out in the FCP.”

Rainforest Alliance found that APP has met its commitments to halt the cutting of natural forest for the purposes of establishing new plantation areas, stop the building of new canals in peatlands by its suppliers and stop all transport of MTH for its own pulp supply by August 31, 2013. Rainforest Alliance also found that as of August 15, 2014 APP pulp mills in Indonesia are receiving only plantation fibre from its supply sources in Indonesia. APP has also met the commitments to develop measures to assess its global supply chain by developing an association procedure for future pulpwood suppliers and ensuring existing suppliers meet APP’s Responsible Fibre Procurement and Processing Policy.

However, according to the auditing report, some clear gaps and areas of limited progress were also identified, including:

• the Peatlands Expert Team has made limited progress and, with the exception of the halt of canal development, there is no change in the management practices on peatlands.
• one pilot social conflict resolution process has been completed, and a small proportion (approximately 10%) of the several hundred other conflicts that APP has mapped have had MOUs or action plans developed and around 90% of the several hundred other conflicts that APP has mapped are still unresolved
• social commitments at the policy level are not consistently mirrored by implementation on the ground
• there is limited progress to develop Integrated Sustainable Forest Management Plans (ISFMP), so the process of implementing recommendations from HCV assessments and HCS work is at an early stage; some plantations where HCV assessors have identified some HCVs as being present continued to be harvested without implementation of the recommended measures to protect the HCVs identified
• APP has been unable to stop on-going forest clearance and illegal logging by third parties on the APP supply concession areas that were visited by the Rainforest Alliance.
• although APP has taken important steps towards greater transparency, they have not achieved the “complete Transparency” claimed by the company

APP-concessions

“We’re pleased that the Rainforest Alliance has recognized the progress we are making. We believe today’s report shows that our efforts to achieve Zero Deforestation are on the right track,” said Aida Greenbury, APP’s managing director of sustainability. “However, our FCP implementation measures are not carved in stone. We must have the courage to continually improve them as we learn lessons from implementation. The report has highlighted a number of areas which require additional focus. Its findings, along with feedback from other stakeholders, have been used to inform our FCP implementation plan for 2015 and beyond, which we are introducing today.”  Read the APP Statement and the 2015 Action Plan responding to the evaluation.

Greenpeace:  “The company continues to make genuine progress against meeting its policy commitments. The Rainforest Alliance highlights a number of important challenges that APP still needs to tackle. Greenpeace concludes that the company is still on track to deliver its commitments, however APP needs to intensify its efforts to address these challenges by making additional improvements in implementing its Forest Conservation Policy commitments. Greenpeace expects APP to be completely transparent on how it is meeting these policy commitments.”  Read full Greenpeace statement here. 

WWF:  “APP has halted its own forest clearing and embarked on a wide array of assessments in its concessions,” commented Aditya Bayunanda, of WWF-Indonesia. “But not much has changed on the ground – forests continue to disappear, peat soils continue to be drained and social conflicts remain unresolved. The company has even failed to protect forests they are legally required to conserve.” Read full WWF statement here.

“After two years of assessments and planning, APP needs to shift its focus to action. Today, APP promised change and WWF will monitor its next steps to see how serious it is about saving forests,” – Rod Taylor of WWF International.

Rainforest Action Network (RAN): “Despite APP’s response to the Rainforest Alliance evaluation in the form of an ‘Action Plan,’ RAN’s conclusion is that it’s still too soon to resume business with APP. APP needs to implement its FCP policy, the new Action Plan and address the findings and gaps found in the evaluation and joint NGO report in a way that demonstrates satisfactory and verifiable positive progress on the ground.”  Read full RAN statement here.

RAN, Forest People’s Programme and nine Indonesian partner organisations recently published a report detailing problems with the implementation of the social aspects of APP’s policy.  An article this week in Mongabay.com digs into one of the remaining social conflicts brewing between the local community of Senyerang in Sumatra, Indonesia, and APP.

“Based on the Rainforest Alliance’s report, we believe APP is on track to deliver on its Conservation Policy, with some tough but important areas to prioritize,” said Rolf Skar, Forest Campaign Director at Greenpeace USA. “APP’s progress against its zero deforestation policy stands in marked contrast to APRIL, its only major competitor in Indonesia, whose suppliers’ bulldozers are set to continue destroying forest and peatland until 2020.

Download the complete Rainforest Alliance evaluation and maps here:  http://www.rainforest-alliance.org/forestry/sourcing/independent-evaluations/asia-pulp-paper

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Co-authored by Sergio Baffoni, European Environmental Paper Network