Shooting yourself in the foot. Getting egg all over your face. These and many more idioms apply to the Sinar Mas group which, following the release of its audit last week, has seen its executives "misreporting" the audit's findings.
Despite what company bigwigs have been saying, the audit doesn't clear Sinar Mas of operating irresponsibly or outside Indonesian law, leading to the embarrassing retraction of several claims made publicly which the audit doesn't in fact support. Worse, Sinar Mas has been telling these fibs not just to journalists, but to its shareholders, the Indonesian government and the stock exchange.
As Laura explained last week, the most serious spin has been on the issue of legality. SMART, the Indonesian palm oil arm of Sinar Mas, had the cheek to announce that the "[verification] report clearly demonstrates that SMART operates responsibly and within the laws and regulations set out by the Indonesian government".
But hang on, the audit shows that in eight out of 11 concessions examined, forest clearance took place before the proper environmental permits were obtained. It also shows how Sinar Mas has been clearing peat deeper than three metres. Both of these are illegal under Indonesian law - the audit confirmed this but Sinar Mas spun it around 180 degrees.
This wasn't just an isolated mistake: the same claims were made in press releases, presentations, phone calls to analysts, press conferences in Jakarta and London, and conversations with journalists.
As Sinar Mas continued with their spin, their own auditors were forced to issue a clarification stating that "there have been elements of the report that have been misreported as it has been published and presented". Misreporting? I suppose that's what you get when you hire the services of Bell Pottinger – PR mercenaries brought in to pick corporations out of a scandal – the spin seems to get out of control.
There are some other quibbles. Our reports have never accused Sinar Mas of clearing primary rainforest (as opposed to other important forests, peatlands and mapped orang-utan habitat) and the auditors have now retracted their claims about this. It seems somewhere down the line, 'primary forest' (which shows no signs of ever being disturbed by humans) was confused with plain old 'tropical rainforest', a term that covers a much wider range of forest types.
To top it all off, the audit also shows Sinar Mas has been clearing large areas of forest without commissioning independent assessments to determine whether areas should be classified as being of high conservation value. This is a requirement of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil rules, and shows not only that they've systematically failed to follow these rules but that membership of the RSPO is no guarantee of good environmental practices in the palm oil business.
The story that "Greenpeace claims are exaggerated or wrong" has also made its way into the company's statement on half yearly results to the financial markets. Our campaigners are writing to the Singaporean and Indonesian stock exchanges to point this out, and make it clear (if it wasn't already) that Sinar Mas group of companies have been misleading their own shareholders as well as traders and analysts. Tut tut. That's a pretty serious charge, and surely making announcements like that which knowingly mislead the stock exchange is likely to get them in very hot water.
It's been a turbulent week for Sinar Mas. After telling its customers, government officials and the finance world that it had been cleared of Greenpeace's claims, the company's own auditors have been forced to clear up the Sinar Mas/Bell Pottinger spin with a clarification statement. Sinar Mas has exposed itself as a company that knowingly misleads customers and shareholders. The question now is how will they now react?