A Guardian investigation has revealed that Asia Pulp and Paper has contracted the former EU trade commissioner Lord Peter Mandelson (aka The Prince of Darkness) as an advisor. Mandelson has an impressive address book but, as this case shows, little regard for how those he advises make their money. Clearly issues around illegality and the fate of Indonesia's rainforests don’t concern this particular Labour peer.
So what exactly is Mandelson doing for APP? Details remain sketchy, but it's connected to the partnership agreement between the EU and Indonesia to tackle illegal timber that will come into force soon.
Under this agreement and connected measures, Indonesian producers - including in those in the Indonesian pulp and paper sector - will have to show that the timber going into those products comes from legal sources.
And this is where things get interesting. APP has made full use in its PR of a new Indonesian legality system for timber, SVLK, developed partly in response to the EU-Indonesia partnership agreement and recent illegal logging legislation adopted by the EU. The company likes to claim that it has a "zero tolerance" for illegal timber. The only problem is that sources in the know suggest APP’s supply chain may well not easily lend itself to legality checks.
Perhaps this shouldn’t come as a surprise, given that APP is currently embroiled in the illegal timber scandal we exposed earlier this year and is also being threatened with legal action by Indonesia's environment ministry over links to illegal logging.
Hiring Mandelson provides yet more evidence that APP's interests lie in spinning reality rather than reforming its practices. If the company is ever to prove it can operate legally and sustainably, it needs to urgently implement new, credible commitments to end its involvement in deforestation in Indonesia. That would be a considerably better use of the company's time and money than hiring yet another spin doctor, particularly one with a reputation like Mandelson’s.
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