FSC rules in upheaval after green groups level accusations at APP
By Caitlin Fitzsimmons Thursday, 01 November 2007
The Forest Stewardship Council may strengthen its rules after a member was accused of destroying a vast swathe of tropical forest on the Indonesian island of Sumatra.
Environmentalists have accused Singapore-based timber firm Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) of logging an area the size of Delaware – about a quarter the size of Wales – in an part of Sumatra that provides critical habitat for endangered orangutans, tigers and elephants.
APP has denied the allegations, but several large paper purchasers, including Ricoh and Office Depot, reportedly cancelled contracts on the news.
The Wall Street Journal has conducted an investigation into FSC certification and as a result of inquiries, the organisation has proposed stricter rules for certification.
The regulations would ban any company known to be destroying rainforests or engaging in illegal logging from using the FSC's label – something that APP's auditors warn could drive away most of the big players in tropical forestry.
APP began the drive for FSC in late 2005, after announcing it had "cleaned up its act". It had long been the target of protests from environmental organisations, including Friends of the Earth, the World Wildlife Fund and German organisation Robin Wood.
In 2003 APP signed an agreement with WWF to move away from rainforest logging but by 2006 that was in tatters, with the environmental group accusing the company of misleading the public about its destructive record on forest management.
In August last year APP ran an advertisement in the New York Times and London Times claiming it was committed to "conservation beyond compliance".
However, the company was preparing to clear an area of peat swamp forest in Kampar Peninsula, which had been proposed as national park because of its importance as a tiger habitat.
"Apparently the company has decided to run a global propaganda campaign rather than protect forests with high conservation values," said Nazir Foead, WWF-Indonesia's director of policy & corporate engagement at the time.
The APP also pledged to shift to acacia plantations but the best estimates of environmental groups for 2004 and 2005 showed it still relied in natural forest for 70% of its supply, according a report in the Financial Times last year.
Illegal and quasi-legal logging is a big problem in Indonesia, making it difficult for legitimate plantation owners to compete.
Tropical rainforests are important not only for wildlife habitat but scientists also believe they play an important role as the "lungs" of the planet in sequestering carbon and generating oxygen.
The FSC was unavailable to comment but Andre de Freitas, head of operations at the FSC, is quoted in the WSJ as saying: "Companies are free-riding on our name. I feel bad about it."
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