Today was a day I have at times feared might never come, but I’ve just emerged from a packed press conference in Jakarta for the launch of Asia Pulp & Paper’s new ‘Forest Conservation Policy’ aimed to end its involvement in deforestation.
I’ve personally invested, along with many of my colleagues, endless hours into our campaign to persuade APP to make this step. After a great deal of blood, toil, sweat and tears, today the company did just that – announcing an immediate moratorium on further forest clearance and a range of measures to stop its role in deforestation.
We could not have got to this point without many of you, around the world, who helped to persuade dozens of well-known brands to suspend contracts with APP.
The decisions by these companies led to more pressure being applied on APP. This sent the message to the company that simply spending more on PR efforts was not going to change its reputation or bring back lost customers.
Other NGOs working on both environmental and social issues have also played a critical role in bringing about this important change, through their own campaigns both here in Indonesia and abroad.
Following the recent meetings we've had with APP, actually seeing the company’s new commitments being announced publicly makes me breathe a little more easily today. But this really is just the beginning of change for a company that has heavily relied on deforestation for too long.
We will be watching very carefully to ensure that APP is delivering where it really matters – on the ground, in the rainforests. Our advice to former customers of APP reflects that: policy commitments will not be enough – it's only through their delivery that APP can start to win back the business that it has lost in recent years.
In the last few days there have been two questions that have dominated most of my discussions around these commitments – why now and what is different this time?
Why now? It’s clear that the commercial pressures and reputational impact of losing major customers around the world is very important. The commitments introduced by APP's sister company Golden Agri Resources (GAR) are almost certainly a factor too. When GAR started to implement strong no deforestation commitments, the company started to win back its customers and mend its own damaged reputation.
But there is another factor that we need to keep in mind and it’s one that means that we need to keep today’s decision in perspective.
The reality is that APP has already cleared the majority of forests in its supply chain to make way for plantations. A lot of forest has been lost for that expansion, tens of thousands of hectares per year in recent years.
So while I am hopeful that things are changing at APP and am happy about what this could mean in future for Indonesia’s rainforests, we cannot forget that these are changes that ought to have come many years ago.
So what’s different this time?
The chairman of the company spoke at today’s event and endorsed the new company policies, which is an important distinction from previous commitments. The company is also working with several external organisations, including The Forest Trust and Asia Pacific Consulting. And critically, the commitments include an immediate commitment to suspend all forest clearance across its supply chain.
However, It all boils down to APP demonstrating that it can turn policy into practice. The company knows it has an awful lot of work to do to demonstrate that things are truly different now.
No one is under any illusion that making commitments is going to be enough. APP will need some time and space to show that its new policies are being implemented.
We very much hope that the company will use this time to also work with other stakeholders to find solutions which both protect forests for the long term and which can help resolve social conflicts.
Greenpeace has, for now, taken the decision to suspend its campaign against APP. We will be reviewing progress by the company and reviewing this decision at regular intervals.
If APP achieves its goal of no deforestation, it’ll be a really significant milestone for our campaign to save Indonesia’s forests. It sends an important challenge to others in the pulp industry who we have written to today.
I am cautiously optimistic about today’s announcement and these changes at APP – they are critical if we are to succeed in ending deforestation in Indonesia and beyond.
Bustar Maitar is Head of Greenpeace's Forest Campaign in Indonesia