Most NGOs react strongly to poor level of paper giant’s legal compliance

(foresthints.news) - The replanting of acacia in 2015’s burned peatlands across the supply chains of Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) on the island of Sumatra is apparently not considered to be a peat violation by APP’s Forest Conservation Policy (FCP) which was declared in early February 2013.

Even though there has been a ban in effect from Indonesian authorities since November 2015 on replanting in 2015’s burned peatlands, various APP companies have seemingly closed their eyes to this prohibition and continued to undertake peat development in these areas.

“The mere fact that there were massive peat fires in 2015 in APP concessions indicates the failure of the FCP. Moreover, the replanting of burned peat shows that APP’s FCP actually involves practices which are completely contrary to the spirit of protecting and restoring peatlands.”

These were the strong words used by Woro Supartinah, Chairwoman of the Riau Forest Rescue Network (Jikalahari), in response to APP’s badly-viewed practices in burned peatlands (Feb 21).

When asked to comment on the lack of any prohibition against the replanting of acacia in burned peatlands in APP’s FCP itself, Woro condemned APP for failing to reinforce standards of legal compliance through the policy. Instead, she insisted, the giant company has weakened these standards by continually carrying out replanting in burned peat.

The Jikalahari chairwoman did not conceal her feelings about the forest conservation policy. “I have never fully trusted APP’s FCP. The replanting of burned peat is a form of violation of the FCP by APP itself.”

Further opportunities denied

Last November, Indonesia’s Ministry of the Environment and Forestry performed intensive monitoring on the ground level, proving that several APP companies were going about business as usual by replanting 2015’s burned peatlands - a practice in clear contravention of the authorities’ ban.

Two letters were sent by the forestry authorities to APP companies, in early and late December last year, requesting that all newly-replanted acacia be removed from 2015’s burned peatlands in the APP concessions concerned.

These companies were given a reasonable deadline for the removal of the acacia. However, when no action was taken on the ground by the APP companies, top officials of the ministry moved in and symbolically uprooted newly-replanted acacia from 2015’s hardest-hit concession - the APP concession located in the same complex as PT OKI Pulp and Paper.

Hadi Jatmiko, Executive Director of Walhi (Indonesian Forum for the Environment) South Sumatra, took a similarly tough stance when giving his view on the matter to foresthints.news (Feb 20).

“The replanting of burned peat is a blatant infringement on the part of the APP companies. The ministry must not give APP any further opportunities because they are just buying time with their peat violations. In fact, the APP companies that are replanting burned peatlands deserve to be hit with the harshest possible sanction, which is the revocation of their permit.”

To follow up on the symbolic removal of newly-replanted acacia in burned peatlands, the ministry plans to issue government-imposed sanctions against APP subsidiary PT BAP early next week (Feb 27), demanding that the company get rid of all newly-replanted acacia in burned peatlands in its largest concession which was badly afflicted by 2015’s peat fires.

If the newly-replanted acacia is still not removed within the designated time period, the sanctions will be stepped up a notch resulting in a permit suspension. If this is not complied with, the company's permit will be revoked.

“The actions of APP are in clear contravention of Indonesia's rules and regulations. APP's supply chains should be free of companies that replant burned peat,” Hadi implored.

Unwelcome surprise

WWF-Indonesia, meanwhile, expressed its surprise at how the APP companies concerned could replant burned peatlands across their supply chains when this practice has been explicitly outlawed by the Indonesian authorities.

Aditya “Dito” Bayunanda, WWF-Indonesia Forest Commodity Leader, expressed his confusion over the illegal burned peat replanting by the APP companies (Feb 21).

“APP’s FCP stipulates that the company’s operations must be legally compliant. A revision of the FCP is not necessary, because the requirement for legal compliance is already clearly stated in the FCP. The issue here is why the APP companies in question failed in their compliance by carrying out replanting in burned peatlands.”

Dito took the opportunity to urge APP to meet the requirement for legal compliance outlined in the FCP by adhering to the government prohibitions, including the ban on the replanting of burned peatlands in its concessions.

Very selfish

Meanwhile, Vanda Mutia Dewi, Executive Director of Greenomics Indonesia, said that APP is only concerned about the losses that it will suffer as a result of the government ban on replanting in burned peat.

"APP is very selfish and only thinks about its own business, as can be seen by its violation of the government ban on the replanting of burned peat. Do they ever calculate the economic and social costs caused by 2015's peat fires which spread across their concessions?" Vanda asked (Feb 21).

She explained that APP claims its FCP to be a policy that is beyond legality, but the facts show that APP is a business group whose companies have committed the most peat violations.

"Has nobody been monitoring the implementation of APP's FCP? Or, were the facts surrounding these peat violations deliberately covered up?" Vanda again questioned aloud.

Respect imperative

With regard to the peat violations committed by APP companies, amongst them the replanting of burned peat, APP has been asked to respect the regulations and policies of the Indonesian government seeing that they operate in the territory of Indonesia.

Wetlands Indonesia Director Nyoman Suryadiputra adopted a measured tone in criticizing the pulp and paper giant when talking to foresthints.news (Feb 20).

“The replanting of burned peat has been outlawed by Indonesian forestry authorities since November 2015. APP must respect this and comply with the ban. It has in fact been doing the opposite. This is a matter of legal compliance.”

According to Nyoman, the symbolic removal of newly-replanted acacia by the ministry was a concrete example of law enforcement in action. He said that this move by the ministry should prompt APP to properly comply with the relevant regulations, by completely stopping any replanting in burned peatlands and removing all acacia that has been recently planted.

Nyoman went even further, saying, “APP is also obliged to restore the burned peat spread across its supply chains.”

No specific responses

Greenpeace, which engaged with APP in the company’s declaration and implementation of its forest conservation policy, gave no specific response (Feb 22), with respect to the substance and implementation of the FCP, concerning the transgressions committed by the APP companies that have replanted burned peatlands extensively in the provinces of Riau and South Sumatra.

Rusmadya Maharuddin, forest campaigner for Greenpeace Indonesia, said, “Greenpeace expects all companies to follow government regulations, and therefore regulatory issues regarding peat and fires need to be addressed via a government process rather than by individual sustainability commitments. Companies do not get to choose whether to follow regulations.”

As of today, no official statement was forthcoming from Greenpeace criticizing APP for the replanting of acacia in burned peatlands. Greenpeace simply released a report on the replanting of palm oil in burned peatlands.

Likewise, APP also failed to provide a specific answer to a question from foresthints.news about whether there were any plans to revise the FCP in view of the fact that APP companies were continually replanting burned peatlands.

According to a statement issued by APP (Feb 22), in order to uphold its compliance with the government of Indonesia, the company will always honor and obey the rules and regulations of the Indonesian government.

This statement, however, clearly contradicts the company’s behavior which eventually compelled the Indonesian forestry authorities to take law enforcement actions by symbolically removing the newly-replanted acacia at PT BAP, one of APP’s concessions.

At the end of January this year, President Joko Widodo reiterated his strong caution that there was absolutely no room for compromise with regard to law enforcement aimed at preventing the recurrence of forest and land fires. The President was moved to deliver this warning largely due to the huge losses - in excess of USD 16 billion - caused by 2015’s catastrophic fires.