A new scheme aimed at reintegrating past forest-destroyers into a green certification is being questioned as interested logging companies face accusations that they have kept contributing to forest destruction in Indonesia.
At its assembly last year, the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) agreed to give their stamp of approval to companies that have cut down trees between 1994 and 2020 if they restore part of the forests and compensate communities. The move was backed by logging companies and green campaigners.
The programme will officially start in July, but preparatory work has already begun with companies interested in regaining the valuable certification, which opens loggers up to more customers. These companies include two Indonesian pulp and paper giants which had cleared vast areas of the tropical rainforest for decades.
Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (April) and Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) now say they have turned a new leaf and have now eliminated deforestation in their supply chains.
But environmental groups doubt their commitment and accuse both companies of sourcing wood from suppliers which continue to cut down intact forests. April and APP refute the accusations.
Any evidence of deforestation since 2020 should immediately disqualify the companies from obtaining certification.
Grant Rosoman, a campaigner at Greenpeace and former FSC board member, says the certification body needs to first look at evidence on the ground before allowing companies to proceed with the scheme.
“If the FSC finds any companies associated with them have continued deforestation over the last two or three years that should be an immediate stop to the process”, he added. “The big danger is that this could become a marketing operation”.
FSC told Climate Home News it “will not engage with any organisation that continues to be part of destructive activities”.
Coveted green symbol
From books to toilet paper, millions of goods across the world boast the FSC’s tick-tree symbol. For the consumer its presence should guarantee the product originates from sustainable and ethical sources.
For companies seeking the certification body’s recognition the symbol is a business opportunity. It opens up wider access to markets as many governments and major retailers, especially in Western countries, require the use of FSC-certified products.
As the rule-setter and enforcer, the FSC plays the crucial role of upholding the integrity of the system. At its general assembly last year its members voted overwhelmingly in favour of a historical change: it moved from 1994 to 2020 the cut-off date by which companies need to have stopped clearing forests in order to get a certification.
Crucially, however, this would only apply if companies restored the same amount of forests that had been cut in their concessions during the period, and provided remedy for the social harm done in the process.
Problem companies engaged
The FSC said this change would “provide a route by which millions of hectares of forests can be restored and then become FSC certified and managed in a responsible manner”.
In March the FSC announced that that it was “engaged in a dialogue” with April and APP to plan their involvement in the remedy process.
Part of large South-east Asian conglomerates selling products in hundreds of countries, both APP and April used to hold FSC certifications. But they lost them, respectively in 2007 and 2013, when the FSC concluded they had been destroying pristine rainforests.
Since then, both companies have vowed to reform themselves. April committed in 2015 to eliminating deforestation from its supply chain and to protecting forests and peatlands. APP similarly pledged to halt all natural forest clearance.
But separate investigations from campaigners and media have repeatedly accused the two companies of breaking their promises.
In the latest instance, last week a coalition of environmental groups accused April of receiving “significant volumes of wood” from two suppliers with evidence of deforestation. In particular, the report points the finger at Adindo Hutani Lestari, an April supplier located in north-eastern Borneo.
The investigation detected over 10,500 hectares of natural forest loss in its concession area since 2016. That’s roughly the equivalent of 20,000 football pitches. In the last month alone, over a hundred hectares of trees have been cut down in the area, according to Nusantara Atlas, which tracks deforestation using satellite images.
Grant Rosoman says this evidence “throws into question” April’s ability to be part of the FSC remedy scheme. “It’s very easy to make a commitment but delivering it on the ground is another story,” he says. “The FSC should not waste its time and do a preliminary screening to see if there is even a basis for moving forward”.
In a statement published on its website, April said: “claims made in the report related to April were baseless”. The company added that, based on its own analysis, no deforestation occurred in areas controlled by its supplier Adindo Hutani Lestari.
APP has faced similar accusations of backsliding on its commitments. Last year a report by a group of campaigners claimed two timber suppliers controlled by APP destroyed natural habitats in a protected reserve to grow acacia trees for pulpwood.
Over 220 hectares of forest have been cleared over the last 12 months in the concession areas of those two companies, according to Nusantara Atlas.
APP did not reply to our request for comment. But, in a statement published last year in response to the report, it said deforestation does not take place on any of its supplier concessions. It also said no natural forests were turned into pulpwood cultivations in the areas controlled by the two suppliers.
FSC told Climate Home News evidence of the progress in implementing remedy work “must be present and verified” before companies can apply for a new certification.
It also said it would “not engage with any organisation that continues to be part of destructive activities, considered as serious violations, within its corporate group”.
Environmentalists worry the narrow focus only on operations directly controlled by companies seeking association could be exploited as a loophole.
That’s because – they claim – companies like April and APP hide their direct links to third-party suppliers through complicated corporate structures stretching into secretive offshore countries.
Timer Manurung from the Indonesian environmental group Auriga says the FSC must take into consideration any deforestation in the groups’ supply chains or this could be an escape route. “The FSC should prepare itself not to be fooled”, she added.
A previous version of the story included maps from deforested areas, but these were removed due to deforestation happening before the images were taken.