Indonesia: Report finds Wood Legality Verification System fails to stop illegal logging

Hans Nicholas Jong, The Jakarta Post 23 Dec 15;

Indonesia’s timber legality system has not been able to stop pulp and paper giants from using illegally sourced timber, as the system is filled with loopholes, an investigation has found.

According to the investigation, pulp and paper companies PT Adindo Hutani Lestari (AHL) and PT Toba Pulp Lestari (TPL) have not been compliant with the country’s timber legality system, called the Wood Legality Verification System (SVLK), even though both firms received legal certification and continued to supply timber to pulp and paper giants.

PT AHL supplies timber to PT Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper (RAPP), which is a subsidiary of Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL), Indonesia’s second-largest pulp and paper producer. PT TPL, meanwhile, is an affiliate of the Royal Golden Eagle Group according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Greenpeace. APRIL is also a part of the group.

“We found that PT AHL was still opening up peatland areas [for pulp plantations in North Kalimantan],” Muhammad Kosar from the Indonesian Independent Forest Monitoring Network (JPIK) said. “Some of the peatlands even had depths of more than 3 meters.”

The investigation, conducted jointly by the JPIK and Forest Watch Indonesia (FWI), also found that PT AHL still harvest their wood from natural forests, outside of its own plantation.

Kosar said that PT AHL harvested their wood unsustainably in order to meet the pulp and paper demand from PT RAPP, frustrating APRIL’s mission to stop forests being cleared for new plantations.

He based his argument on an Environment and Forestry Ministry document called the Industrial Material Fulfillment Plan (RPBBI), which showed the usage of timber sourced from natural forests from September to November 2015.

The document showed an increasing volume of timber being cut by PT AHL in North Kalimantan, from 1.07 million cubic meters in September to 1.2 million in October and 1.3 million in November. Meanwhile, the volume of timber cut by PT RAPP itself was constant during that time, with 171,630 cubic meters in Kepulauan Meranti regency and 3,421 M3 in Pelalawan regency, Riau.

“These findings indicate a form of violation of these companies’ own commitments to their own internal Sustainable Forest Management Plan [SFMP] policies. This plan is only to boost their image so that their products sell well in the global market,” Kosar said.

Earlier this year, APRIL announced PT RAPP and its suppliers had stopped harvesting from any Indonesian natural forests, four years ahead of its commitment.

According to APRIL, starting next year the company will derive all of its pulp wood from its own plantations and those of its suppliers, which now total 480,000 hectares, for its 2.8-million-ton capacity pulp mills.

Besides PT AHL, the investigation also found that PT TPL’s operation in North Sumatra was mired with land disputes and the violation of locals’ human rights.

According to Kosar, the local community living in PT TPL’s operating area is still struggling to take over management of a 3,900-square-meter customary forest from the company.

For decades the local residents used to make ends meet by harvesting incense trees from the forest. The villagers, however, are now unable to rely on the forest for their livelihoods because PT TPL, which in 1992 was granted a concession to manage 269,000 hectares of forest in North Sumatra for 35 years, started felling trees on customary land in 2009.

“The conflict there has reached boiling point, with the case falling into the hands of the National Commission on Human Rights [Komnas HAM] in 2014 but until now no resolution has been achieved because of a lack of clear boundaries between the customary forest and the concession,” Kosar said.

Despite the problems, both PT AHL and PT TPL managed to obtain SVLK certificates, issued by PT Sarbi International Certification and PT Ayamaru Sertifikasi, respectively.

“PT AHL received a ‘good’ rating in its final performance assessment result, with a score of 91 percent,” said Kosar.

Therefore, he suspected that certification agencies had failed to assess either company properly as both clearly did not meet the criteria set by the SVLK system.

Commenting on the investigative report, APRIL spokesman Agung Laksamana said that neither company was part of APRIL.

“PT AHL is a third party and short-term supplier of fibre to APRIL Group/RAPP. It is not part of the APRIL Group/RAPP and we do not have any legal relationship with PT AHL beyond a supply chain relationship,” he told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday. “PT TPL is a publicly listed company and not a subsidiary or an affiliate of the APRIL Group. Therefore, we cannot provide any comment on this issue.”

Agung also maintained that APRIL was fully committed to its Sustainable Forest Management Plan.

“We have instructed all our suppliers to fully comply with our SFMP2.0 and more importantly not to conduct any new developments in natural forests and forested peatland. We will continue to ensure that they comply with our strict policies. However, if our suppliers are proven to have committed any violation of this policy, APRIL/RAPP will suspend the relationship with that supplier until it has proven that it has taken the necessary actions to ensure that it fully complies with all laws and regulations and with APRIL’s/RAPP’s strict policies, to ensure that such violations do not reoccur,” he said.

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