This time it’s about human rights. With a long story of environmental and human rights abuses, Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) has proven to be one of the most problematic transational companies. APP pulped around one million hectares of rainforest in Sumatra, seizing land for the plantations from local communities and indigenous people, and when they protested, the company systematically intimidated them, using police, private security, militias and thugs.


Already in 2001, APP subsidiary Arara Abadi sent company militia to attack residents in the villages of Mandiangin, Betung, and Angkasa/ Belam Merah. In 2003, a Human Rights Watch report described the company as “Without Remedy”. The human right organization said that “Arara Abadi, backed by state security forces, routinely seized land for the plantations from indigenous communities without due process and with little or no compensation” and warned that “further abuses are likely to continue under current conditions of impunity.” The prediction proved to be more than true: the same story repeated itself, year after year, just changing the names of the locations, until 2008, when the Arara Abadi sent police helicopters to fire bombs on the village of Suluk Bongkal: 300 homes were burned, 700 peoples were extrajudicially arrested – many of whom languished in jail for months following the eviction – and two children died as consequence of the events. 

Now APP is trying to penetrate the European market and needs a better image. To present itself as a responsible company they hired a high profile PR company, Cohn&Wolfe, and published a number of customized “audits” and “certifications”. Unfortunately, the reports from the ground show that APP practices have not changed. On the contrary, the expansion of plantations at the cost of rainforests, local communities and global climate goes on quickly. Scientists and NGOs have shown that most of the reports on sustainability released by APP had little or no scientific credibility.

The company has always denied the allegations and has recently pledged to abide by a two-year government ban on deforestation. But a report released by Eyes on the Forests shows the maps of the concessions recently obtained by APP. These concessions are largely located on high conservation value forests, and on peat soils deeper than 4 meters, where conversion into plantation is forbidden by Indonesian legislation (Presidential Decree No. 32/1990). And both Greenpeace and WWF filmed tigers in the forests to be clearcutted to provide fibres for APP paper mills.

Now APP is going to play the same game on human rights. The company has announced that it has commissioned an independent audit of its practices in Indonesia following a UN call for businesses around the world to protect human rights. It seems to be good news, if not the company hired by APP for the independent verification were Mazars, which in August 2010 already released an “independent” verification report,exclusively based on APP documentation. This time it seems to be not much different: “We will be basing our study on more than 100 indicators” said James Kallman, president of Mazars Indonesia, to the Jakarta Globe. But he also had to admit that Mazar would audit only the policy statements provided them from APP, and would not investigate cases of human rights abuses by the company documented by third parties.

“This is not the first time APP has commissioned audits by companies claiming to be independent and they eventually always produce positive assessments [of APP], which we think is far from the reality on the ground” said Hariansyah Usman, head of Walhi Riau, a local environmental NGO.

The UN call for businesses to protect human rights could have been a great opportunity to choose a new approach. APP failed to take this opportunity, and present again the old bad trick of a customized audit.
Like everything, certification can be a serious business or a joke. But joke on human rights are always bad jokes.