Indonesian Police Chief General Tito Karnavian (L) and staff examine land and forest fires in Riau (Photo ANAS/AFP/Getty Images)

SEC needs to explain its silence over APRIL abuse

By Chris Soh

In the article “Inspectors blocked from Riau concession” published in the Straits Times on 8 September 2016, it has been reported that Indonesia police are investigating a pulp and paper concession in Riau after it had obstructed investigators from entering the concession.

The team which was led by the Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG) chief Nazir Foead visited the concession licensed to Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper (RAPP) following complaints in June that the firm had allegedly opened up peat areas to build canals.

RAPP is the operating arm of Singapore-based Asia Pacific Resources International Holdings (APRIL) which is one of the world’s largest pulp and paper companies. In response to the Straits Times, APRIL said that it “deeply regretted the misunderstanding.”

Also, products by APRIL are still certified under the Singapore Environment Council’s Green Label Scheme.

On 15 March this year, the local Non-Government Organisation, Singapore Environment Council (SEC), that has many civil servants and political figures, renewed the Green Label for APRIL, and released a statement, “SEC Renews APRIL’s PaperOne Singapore Green Label.”

Read more: Is the Singapore Environment Council truly a civil society organisation?

In the statement, Mr Zech Chan, Chairman of Green Label Steering Committee at SEC said, “We are pleased to support companies like APRIL which has made additional commitments to ensure that fires are prevented and effectively suppressed. This is very much aligned with SEC’s haze control advocacy following 2015’s worst fire season in Indonesia in decades.”

This is not the first time that APRIL is in the news for the wrong reasons in relation to environmental degradation.

In the article, ‘Indonesia’s forestry minister axes deal with paper firm over ‘irregularities’’ published in The Straits Times on 27 July 2016, Indonesia’s Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar vetoed a land management agreement with a member company of pulp and paper company Asia Pacific Resources International Holdings Limited (APRIL) over irregularities in the way the deal was struck in June 2016.

Earlier this year one of APRIL’s suppliers was issued a stern warning by the forestry ministry for fires that occurred in their concession in Riau province.

In a Jakarta Post report dated 19 April 2016, the fires had burned through “rubber and sago plantations belonging to residents as well as an industrial forest belonging to PT Sumatera Riang Lestari (PT SRL), a concession company in Parit Jawa village, Tanjung Kedabu subdistrict, Rangsang Island.” Of the 100 hectares of land burned in Tanjung Kedabu, 30 hectares belonged to PT SRL. PT SRL is an affiliate company of APRIL.

Despite these reports and actions against the company, the SEC has chosen not to take APRIL to task or to suspend their use of the Singapore Green Label.

Only last week, the chairman of the SEC Isabella Loh said in a statement that “consumers should buy from Singapore Green Label paper products and more importantly, take affirmative actions every day and not just haze days alone. We must re-emphasise that these plantation owners must take full responsibility in educating their communities and suppliers about the hazards of haze.”

The statement is rather ironic as the SEC continues to remain silent over the allegations being thrown in the way of APRIL, which continues to be certified under the Singapore Green Label despite its regrettable environmental actions.

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