Munich/Germany (23/5). In recent days, the NGO cabal called once more to boycott of Asian Pulp Paper/Sinar Mas (APP/ Sinar Mas) owned by the super-rich, crazy-Asian, Wijaya family. The other Indonesian family owned conglomerate, APRIL/RGE, equally controversial, owned by the Tanoto family but escaped the current wrath of NGO attacks.
Communities continue to reject these companies in increasing numbers. It is only a question of time when the government is forced to shut the doors. The question nobody asks are APP or APRIL sustainable in the current format. Logically the answer would be, a clear No.
To illustrate the excesses of these families one just need to google for example car racing, and we find Anderson Tanoto, the Wharton educated scion of the controversial company founder enjoying his wealth racing super cars. Guess being green, as the company represent itself, is missed when one zooms around the racing circuit in his fossil fuel stinker.
Tanoto and their arch competitors APP are surrounded themselves with a set of Yes-ministers, such as a former accountant and a few ex-generals of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). “As this means anything or makes them more sustainable escaped me”, said policy expert of Friends of the Earth in an off-the-record telephone interview. Despite the stars on the shoulders the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry is equally not impressed and in late 2019 sealed concessions from both APP and RAPP due to causing haze. The companies of course rejected the claim.
Now at the beginning I insist this article is neither for the companies, by god they are despised enough, I am actually daily wondering why governments still support them, but I am also not for the campaign the global cabal of leftist NGOs wage against industry.
Like many of us reading the daily allegations, the latest trivia by mongabay.com, funded by the U.S. Climate and Land Use Alliance, and the corporate funded affiliates, concern about calling APP “waging a war of terror against communities” should concern both government and the corporate executives who retreat behind the wall of corporate messaging, after all a former CNN executives, works for them, rejecting on the allegation of communities as outlandish.
Yes, we agree with the response, but between the NGO global media machinery and the corporate 300-word rebuttal, which no one reads, corporations are lacking the intellectual lateral thinking capability in the ranks. It also fails the muster.
Well, who can blame them? Super car racing in Germany, bike racing in Bali, and a new helicopter toy are more important when you are young and reckless. And after all, you buy a few ex-military guys and managers who have a telephone book of “we fix” it connections, to ministers, friendly generals, and politicians but actually are “Befehls Empfaenger”, the German “Jawohl, Herr General” of Hogan Heroes heritage when it comes to orders from the top, this is the families.
Both, Franky Widjaya and Sukanto Tanoto and his scion the young Anderson Tanoto are surrounded by self-preserving executives and staffers who often, as one industry insider said, “promoted six time over their capability and ten times their worth”. And of course, what does social responsibility has to do with a previous experience in accounting or the military. Nothing, of course.
So, we should not be surprised these companies despite their glossy misuse of NGOs in their annual report or sign pretty useless commitment paper because we, the public and the NGOs fail to understand, the main purpose of the corporate tactics is “to get the monkey of my back preferable on to the competitor”, as one executive of one of the under siege companies once said.
But the NGOs well-funded campaign of naming and shaming, allegations, and denial of area access to markets such as the lucrative North American and European Union market so far has achieved, yes, we guessed it, nothing.
Nothing to change behaviours of executives who are like Ding dynasties Mandarins in the trail of the owners passing through their private airport access in Seletar airport or Jakarta, enjoying the privilege of travel we mere mortal can only wish for. One must wonder what do these companies need diplomatic like exception from security scrutiny at airports.
Nothing will change if the courts do not name the executives by name in court hearings and hold executives accountable for cleverly side-stepping the laws to hold them accountable to pay taxes, settle outstanding dues owed and burn down a forest without whatsoever recourse.
The growing number of angry villagers are only mounting. Regardless of the well grafted corporate response from former media executives. Hong Kong, the Jakarta Riots, the Extinction Rebellion in the U.K. are valuable lessons for communities on the fringe. To take action will undo the business as usual that is creeping back into Indonesian political and corporate landscape.
Even if APRIL in publicity event donating COVID-19 to China (hear, hear, why not Italy who needs it more), and announcement on “Viet Nam News”, pushed by a Hong Kong based propaganda, erm content provider, to shore up the battered image of APRIL. Media Outreach which their offices are only eight minutes walking distance away from RGE offices in Singapore, was founded in 2009 in Hong Kong is paid journalism, hence the allegation made by the NGOs the Indonesian conglomerates are green washing is as effective as the Hong Kong Police claiming it does not beat up protesters.
Media Outreach like so many others are a Public Relations (PR) effort. The narrative represents the sole spin of the corporation who pays the bills. Once the accounting, said accountant hits to save penny-button, two things usually happens. One, the media support stops. Two, the media planted becomes irrelevant.
Despite the self-promotion of having a feel-good moment in the corporate comms departments with having a good spin, reality of irrelevance settles in, and the NGO narrative has returned.
Time and again, Indonesian paper pulp and paper companies such as APP and APRIL have broken the promises they made to the Indonesian government and its people. As a result, toxic haze from the forest fires the paper industry has created has spread to neighbouring countries, millions of hectares of forests have been swiped out, local wildlife is endangered and untold farmers robbed of their land. It’s long past time that Jakarta impose serious sanctions on any of the major pulp and paper companies.
Lack of intellectual depth, shallow as it goes.
Today, a myriad of “Media Outreach”, media houses exists like fleas on the beach (and sand), but why are the companies not spared from the onslaught of bad press. To quote a Greenpeace campaigner manager, “because Indonesian and their Indian and Singaporean, know-it-all’s, fail to understand we are waging a political war, not a PR campaign”. Point well taken, and one more thing. The two families do-not-get-it.
Einstein once defined what stupidity is, as repeating what did not work before and expected a different outcome each time. Trying to keep the corporate façade like a Potyomkin village alive and using the same old PR machinery and expecting the monkey goes away is a futile effort, wasted budget and eye rolling among us.
Both companies employ not the brightest and the best but often the least contrarian. Linear, yes-ministers who do not promote innovation. The promote insignificance, stifle honest debate, mixed with penny-pinching often results in waste, corruption, and abuse. It also promotes the radicalization of community and ignorance by the public of these companies driving themselves over the cliff.
As one former consultant interviewed said, “Honesty is not appreciated by these companies. Hubris, arrogance, and condescendence is the rule. Even the gentlest supporters of these brands eventually turn away from supporting them. No PR in Hong Kong or Vietnam will be able to fix it because it comes across as not genuine.”
“If some of these managers would come to me with their hair on fire, I would take a selfie and post on social media, before helping them”, she added, summing up the public sentiment.
She added, “I once wrote a 6-page outline of NGO tactics for an Indian executives, I think it was, he was just not intellectually capable of comprehending simplistic concept. Once I converted this to a powerpoint, he was elated.”, rolling her eyes she continued, “NGOs got easy pickings with these companies. They represent everything, and I mean, everything what they hate.”
It does not need much to agitate communities to the level of violence against the companies, says an expert on radicalization.
Thomas Wilkinson, who is with Hominibus, the civil society research institute said in a recent presentation on ethics, “The companies employ individual who are questionable ethics, do not respect their employees and society in the pursuit of ultimate personal creed. The executives and owners lack empathy hence are unable to understand the environment and landscapes and their impacts on everyone’s life.
Replacing individual arrogance with common sense clashes with the already agitated individuals. The rest is predictable. Communities and individuals demand from the government a change. If the last year’s riots in Jakarta are not a warning than I am not sure what is. People have enough.”, he added predicting the increase of violence against companies and their executives is in the making.
He added, if too much wealth is accumulated by a few disparities are quickly generating a climate of hate and violence. “A less confrontational tone, more empathy and participation instead of an ivory tower approach goes a long way and de-escalates tension. And the occasional firing of some of these Executives doesn’t hurt the image either.”
Wilkinson adds, the companies all lack of strategic depth. Despite they are all talking about strategy he added, none of the companies can articulate their benefit to societies. Good for the country is vague and ambiguous. What is good for China, is flat out rejected by the United States or Europe, he added. NGOs on the other hand are clear in their visions and they deliver the narrative consistently, over decades, he added.
The government is caught between the proverbial hard rock. Economic consideration outweighs fuzzy politics, a senior policy advisor in Jakarta said, “The president vision on these offenders is clear. Executives should not be mistaken President Jokowi is not committed to protect the interests of Indonesians. But this applies to foreign NGOs.”, he added.
The right to defense
NGOs must recognize the companies right to exist. Most NGOs do not. This makes them extreme in their vision. Companies increasingly seek solution to the propaganda wars targeting the companies.
“Here is where the problem lays”, says a media academic who studied the NGO media campaigns. “NGOs are not much different from radical, even extremist groups”, he said, “however many executives just don’t get it when we talk about political campaigns, researched narrative and protracted narratives to counter the negativity which was created for years, even decades ahead. A quick, silver bullet PR campaign is neither correct the public image nor change public perception.”
“This requires in-depth understanding of the civil society groups motivation and narrative,”, he added, “most executives even owners regularly fail to understand the fundamentals of political campaigns.”, he said.
Executives looking for a quick, silver bullet solution, are doomed to failure and endless repetition, waste of money with no tangible result “Only once you understand that the Indonesian WALHI is actually the foreign Friends of the Earth, which regularly meet to discuss how to influence European and Indonesian policy officials through emotional narratives.”
“Greenpeace planned to become the voice on economic development in Asia, as early as 1996. Think about it, this one group planned its campaign twenty-four years ago. How many executives can even understand the implication of this strategy?”, he asked.
“Twenty-four years ago, activists begun planning on how to defeat Asians in Asia and kick them out of Brazil and pristine landscapes.”
He said, “Unless company executives from APP and APRIL, Wilmar and IOI accept that they are facing a strategic threat, investing in this companies are a high-risk position. The usual media, PR-strategies are cute, but a disaster. The lateral-intellectual capacity of greed blinds the development of these companies. Executives are ignorant and often not capable to act despite they stare the obvious black elephants in the face”