How Asia Pulp & Paper is winning back trust

How Asia Pulp & Paper is winning back trust

This article first appeared at MayDay MayDay MayDay and is reprinted with permission.

Today, Pulp & Paper (APP) Group announced it will commit to the protection and restoration of 1 million hectares of forest across Indonesia.

As always, some will say the proof of the pudding is in the eating, that APP has made commitments before, and so on. All true. But it's becoming increasingly difficult for even the most hardened APP cynic to deny that this company has moved very far, very fast. And furthermore, APP has not been found wanting in responding to the concerns and demands of its fiercest critics, many of whom are now becoming critical friends, sitting at APP's side to help the company deliver what no-one has done in Indonesia (or well beyond) ever before.

First, in February 2013, came the Forest Conservation Policy, and an immediate cessation of natural forest clearance. In partnership with The Forest Trust, APP switched off all bulldozers in its supply chain. Immediately. The moratorium has held, and the commitment remains as strong as ever.

Some NGOs wanted APP to stop all use of natural forest fiber (which had been cleared before the moratorium and was stored in the field) in its mills. APP responded, and no more natural forest fiber was allowed past any mill gate from midnight on Sept. 1, 2013.

Others demanded APP commission a completely independent evaluation of its performance. APP has asked the Rainforest Alliance to do just that, and work is now underway.

And then there was the major elephant in the room: conservation and restoration. APP stated it was on the table, but that it needed time to work out the details, much of which was impossible whilst High Carbon Stock and High Conservation Value assessments were underway across its 2.6 million hectare estate. True to form, APP has now unveiled what pretty much everyone agrees is a ground-breaking and hugely ambitious programme to work with international and local NGOs, government and industry at large to preserve 1 million hectares of forest.

All this, combined with progress on social conflicts (inherent in so many comparable supply chains), and a vast program of implementation work that is transparently reported, warts and all, on a dashboard available to stakeholders across the public and private sectors. I'm a former long-time critic of APP now working closely as an advisor to help the company implement its ambition. In case you think I have to say these things, don't take my word for it; see what Greenpeace has to say about it.

Yes, there's a long way to go. Yes, there'll be lumps and bumps along the way. But for those who still want to believe this company will renege on its promises, dilute its zeal or be distracted from its revolutionary transformation, I suspect they'll be waiting a very long time. The past is well and truly behind APP, and, crucially, many of the company's critics are leaving it behind too. We now depend on them helping continue and accelerate what could become the most spectacular corporate turnaround in modern history.

There are many civil society groups and customers holding APP to account, and that's exactly how it should be. But APP's leaders have worked tirelessly to win trust, and should be rewarded for doing so. It's not just the right thing to do, but sends a powerful signal to those who think they can get away with business as usual. They can't and they won't.

Image by Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade via Flickr.

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