Earlier this week, we released some sad, shocking footage showing the slow and gruesome death of a Sumatran tiger that became trapped within an Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) concession in Sumatra's Riau province. The video footage also revealed that in the same APP area, recent forest clearance had taken place in an area identified as tiger habitat.
This episode is not only tragic in conservation terms, it highlights the role of the world’s largest forestry certification body - the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) - in greenwashing APP’s reputation by certifying some of its very questionable products.
Incredibly, APP products containing timber from the area where this tiger died could actually receive the PEFC stamp of approval and be sold around the world as sustainable.
How is this possible, given that there are no PEFC-certified forests in Indonesia? Like many forest certification schemes, PEFC allows the production of what have become known as mixed source products - that is, products that contain certified timber but also some timber that isn’t, as explained on the PEFC website.
The part that isn’t certified has to come from what have become known as non-controversial or controlled sources. This is timber that isn't certified, but comes from areas that are checked or verified for things such as basic legality standards, standards which are set by PEFC.
But because these PEFC standards are weak, APP is able to trash forests in Indonesia, replace them with plantations, and then get these plantation areas verified as non-controversial by PEFC. What a wheeze. And that is exactly what they've done. A number of APP concession areas in Indonesia have been verified under PEFC rules as non-controversial sources. This verification is currently carried out by SGS, a certification audit body.
So APP imports PEFC-certified timber from outside Indonesia, mixes it with this 'non-controversial’ Indonesian timber, and produces PEFC products. The APP area where the tiger died is one of these PEFC-verified areas. Timber from all these verified areas can be used in PEFC certified mixed source products sold as ‘sustainable’ by APP anywhere in the world.
Have PEFC launched an immediate enquiry or severed their connections to APP? Not quite. PEFC’s only public response has been an astonishing Italian press release which appears to expose a basic lack of understanding of their own certification scheme.
For those of us who haven’t cracked Italian, this release claims that Greenpeace is releasing false information which is damaging PEFC’s reputation. It goes on to claim that because the PEFC-certified timber used by APP comes from certified plantations in Chile, we're trying to sneakily misrepresent the facts. It also states that yes, APP may have issues in Indonesia, but this doesn't apply to them because all the PEFC fibre is from Chile.
We've sent the report which shows how these areas are in fact PEFC-verified (if not fully certified) to the PEFC office in Italy. Perhaps it may lead to a public correction of their inaccurate claims? Better still perhaps, it may lead to an urgent review of just how it can be that timber from these areas can possibly be considered as non-controversial by PEFC?
APP’s deforestation includes the destruction of forests mapped as tiger habitat, replacing these forests with acacia plantations. APP is responsible for wiping out the home and hunting grounds of the Sumatran tiger to make throwaway paper products. How can it be that these same areas can then get verified as ‘non-controversial’ by the world’s largest forest certification scheme?
Isn’t it about time action was taken to stop APP from greenwashing its products with the PEFC brand?
Update, 2 August 2011: Thanks to the eagle-eyed supporters who spotted that in fact PEFC International did actually slip out a response to the tiger story last week, which we didn't catch before this story was published. This second, equally astonishing response tried to bury the link between APP and PEFC right at the end of paragraph five - blink and you’ll miss it. Call me cynical, but doesnt this rather suggest that PEFC is trying to hide the fact that PEFC-certified products could also contain fibre from highly controversial APP areas in Indonesia?
Find out more about APP and Greenpeace's work on deforestation: