The Indonesian conglomerate Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) is in the news again. A new report by Hans Nicholas Jong, a staff writer for the eco portal mongabay.com laid out the case of a long history of problems the company is facing. The writer laid out a compelling argument against Asia Pulp & Paper.
The NGOs suggest the government of Indonesia should step in and manage the conflict resolution process. The record of false promises by the company are not kept is long. Many argue the company’s poor record is an indicator that the APP brand and its executives cannot be trusted. Activists argue APP greenwash is continuously trying to save the embattled brand, a claim made by WWF in the 2011 report. The PR giant Cohn & Wolf attempted to reposition the ‘toxic brand’ with a PR campaign similar to other corporations but companies such as Tesco, Adidas and others fired the APP brand. The Singapore environmental council cancelled the imports of some of the Sinar Mas/APP products.
The ecologist wrote, “..But sloppy PR tosh obviously doesn’t excuse or hide APP’s total lack of regard for Indonesian rainforest and the habitats and communities that these forests support. And, in fact, this PR flim-flam was unable to cover a thinly veiled admission that APP will continue their destruction of Indonesia’s forests…”.
Golden Agri Resources recruited Pelham Bell Pottinger. The PR company was embroiled in a scandal over a South African campaign to stir up racial tensions. The Public Relations and Communications Association in the UK said the PR company was unethical, unprofessional, and banned the company. Bell Pottinger went bankrupt in late 2017. It supports the view of many critical voices.
Rudiansyah from Walhi was quoted, “APP should seriously demonstrate actions to implement its commitments related to the social issues, otherwise its FCP is no more than mere greenwash.”
According to mongabay.com a whopping 58 percent or 22 of the thirty-eight contractors of APP are embroiled in 122 social community fights. This means each of 22 contractors is engaged in six community conflicts in one form or the other. Activists claim another 600 conflicts are looming going back years. This should be a considerable concern to Indonesian officials of the re-elected administration. Whereas the competitor APRIL was forced by the administration to change in the past years, APP is somewhat exempted from the wrath of the reelected president Jokowi.
With the Jokowi aiming to complete the land certification reforms by 2024 (or so) his policy objectives are to secure 20 % of the corporate land to be returned to the community as stipulated by law. Jokowi also ordered the relevant ministers to immediately resolve the issue of land disputes so that the people have legal certainty and threatened to revoke the concession permits of companies if the law is not followed. The President’s directives are in contrast to what activists claim are land grabbing practices by the APP acquiring land without consent from the community.
Activists nationwide are cynical whether all these promises will be fulfilled and remain empty. The excessively large land holdings in the palms of one corporation such Sinar Mas/APP are prone to conflicts, corruption and negative impacts on the environment. It poses the question if this Indonesian corporation is too large and the Jokowi administration should step in to manage the affairs of the company.
Academics agree. Yando Zakaria, quoted by mongabay.com, raised the question why APP is working on the conflicts. The call on the government to take over is repeated by Walhi Indonesia. Activists called on the Minister for Environment and Forestry to review permits of the company as fears for violent conflicts in 602 villages are on the rise.
The Indonesian anti-corruption agency, KPK recently arrested company directors bribing government officials in an anti-corruption sting, APP’s sweltering community conflicts considered by many human rights violations, violation of customary land rights and destruction of the environment, are some of the on going issues APP continues to face.
According to Reuters and TheInsiderstories, the vice director of SMART, a Sinar Mas company, was among others were arrested as they attempted to bribe parliament members with approximately 16,000 US dollars. Tempo reported two offices of PT Sinar Mas Agro Resources and Technology (SMART) and PT Binasawit Abadi Pratama (BAP) were raided by police in Jakarta as part of ongoing investigations. In 2015, contracted company security guards at an APP subsidiary murdered a 22-year villager named Indra Pelani embroiled for years in a dispute over an insignificant parcel of farmland.
The company strenuously denies these allegations however facts remain for the independent observer to judge the company and its products. It is unlikely the company will change as the culture of APP is uncompromisable posing, again, the question if the company is too large.