Now the arrival in the UK of Aida Greenbury, the Director of Sustainability and Stakeholder Engagement for the notorious Asia Pulp and Paper, is always going to get Greenpeace excited - it’s not often she has to defend her company's actions live and online. But our excitement turned a little sour when APP refused our request to debate Aida directly on Print Week's webcast. Perhaps APP's new PR agency Cohn and Wolfe is advising Aida against talking to us in public.
Director of sustainability might be on her business card but Minister of Truth in the vein of a George Orwell novel would be more accurate. Aida repeatedly avoided tough questions from Print Week and in a number of instances told outright fibs to the audience.
For example, APP said that none of its customers had walked away from it on environmental grounds this year. Clearly Aida doesn't follow the news. An FT article this year included a quote from the retailer giant Carrefour saying that it
“has decided to stop production in Indonesia of APP supplies for Carrefour branded products from this summer”. Kraft also announced earlier this year that “In light of the serious allegations against the Sinar Mas group regarding their pulp and paper operations in Indonesia we have begun working with our suppliers and shifting our sourcing away from APP/Sinar Mas for paper-related products until the Sinar Mas group clearly demonstrates its entities comply with local laws and are able to source pulp and paper material sustainably”.
If we add to the list commitments by Tesco, Nestle and Unilever to implement sustainable procurement policies for paper products which by their nature would exclude APP, it would appear that either the communication between Aida and her sales team has broken down or she is trying to deny reality again.
Aida also claimed in the interview that there was no link between APP and Arco Paper and Print in the UK, and that Arco was simply a merchant that distributed their products. Again this is some way off the truth. A quick look through Company House records shows that since the beginning of August Mr Rui Zheng has been the Company Director of Arco. So, where else does Mr Zheng work?
Well it turns out that he is also Senior Director and Head of Chairman's Office at, believe it or not - APP China. With Aida and Arco not owning up to the fact that they are both part of the same group of companies it's no surprise that some UK printers and paper merchants have no idea that when they buy from Arco they are inadvertently buying from APP and associating their customers with the clearance of rainforest and the destruction of orang-utan and tiger habitats.
The next amazing claim from Aida was that they had recently 'won' a complaint made against their adverts published in the Times earlier this year. These adverts contained all sorts of claims including the line that "poverty is the biggest cause of deforestation in Indonesia" and that "APP and its pulpwood suppliers support 500,000 hectares of forest protection". After Greenpeace made a complaint to the Advertising Standards Association in the UK the ASA published a statement on their website which said, with specific reference to APP, 'After consideration by the ASA of complaints received [from Greenpeace regarding APP], the … companies and organisations agreed to amend or with draw advertising without the need for a formal investigation'. The question is – why did APP print adverts with important claims that they were not prepared to substantiate when challenged and why did they tell Print Week that they had 'won the case'?
Perhaps the most galling of APP answers was to a question about peatland. Aida claimed that APP "is the leader in sustainability in the pulp and paper industry" and talked about how APP identifies and protects peatlands. Yet a Greenpeace report earlier this year showed how 600,000 hectares – roughly ½ of APP's current concession area in the provinces of Riau and Jambi in Sumatra is on peatland.The photo below shows just what APP means by identifying and protecting peatlands – its suppliers are clearing rainforest and digging canals and draining the peatland to make the land suitable for plantations.
Finally, in response to a question from the floor Aida claimed that environmental assessments had been carried out on all their concessions and that these assessments were publicly available if only we'd bother to ask the Indonesian government for them. So there you go, if you're an APP or Arco customer, past, present or future and you want to check on where their paper comes from all you have to do is find the time to write to the Indonesian government and ask for them.
Surely if any existing assessments proved their innocence APP would have already given them to the plethora of journalists who have written critical stories about APP's involvement in forest destruction this year. You might also ask why these assessments weren't published in the recent audit that APP paid for by Alan Oxley's outfit, ITS Global? And why haven't all of the customers that have walked away from APP this year received these environmental assessments as part of APP's attempt to dissuade them from leaving?
Come on Aida, what are you waiting for? Show your customers all of your concessions, and all your existing environmental impact assessments. Then invite independent forest experts to come to the ground and see the great work that you are doing to protect peat and other high conservation values in those concessions. Apparently you have nothing to hide.