Down to Earth No. 69, May 2006

Certification controversy

Parts of two forest concessions, both of which have controversial track records, have been certified.This raises the question of what safeguards on social and environmental sustainability do such partial certifications offer local communities and international consumers? Or are these just pilot projects intended to 'test the water' at the very time Indonesia is trying to increase its credibility on international markets as a source of legal and sustainable timber.

Controversy has broken out since it was announced in March this year that some of Riau Andalan Pulp & Paper's plantation concessions have been certified. This is the first certification of a plantation by the Indonesian Ecolabelling Institute (LEI). RAPP - part of the Indonesian Raja Garuda Mas Group and a subsidiary of Singapore-based APRIL - is one of the world's largest paper pulp plants with a production of 2 million tonnes per year. For this it needs an annual supply of over 10 million m3 of timber.

Pulping the rainforest

The Riau NGO Jikalahari states that, since RAPP started operations in 1995, it has directly contributed to the destruction of over 400,000 ha of rainforests through sourcing wood supplies from natural forests and replacing these with plantations. RAPP has concession licences for industrial tree plantations (HTI) covering 330,000 hectares. It also has access to a further 349,222ha of forest land through associated companies. This makes a total of 679,222 ha scattered over the districts of Pelalawan, Kuasing, Kampar and Siak in Riau province.

Indonesian NGOs say that RAPP still gets as much as 70% of the timber it requires to feed its pulp mill from natural forests. In contrast, RAPP's president, Irsan Syarief, claims that the company obtains up to 60% of its raw materials from its timber plantations and expects to source all its raw materials from the plantations by 2010. He also says RAPP has planted 115,000 ha of acacia since 2004. Since October 2002, APRIL has implemented a wood tracking system intended to eliminate illegal timber from its supply chain; this is periodically audited by SGS with WWF as an observer.

Partial certification

The award ceremony was a prestigious affair attended by former environment minister Emil Salim, a co-founder of LEI, forestry minister Kaban and current environment minister Witoelar. However, in the media coverage of this event and in RAPP's half-page colour advertisements in the national press which expressed the 'company's delight at gaining certification', there was no mention that the certification is only for part of its plantation.

LEI says that it was only able to consider a 'certificate of sustainable plantation management' for the 159,500 ha area covered by a 1997 permit, even though this was replaced by another ministerial edict covering 235,140ha in 2004. It is highly likely that the rest of the land still has some natural forest cover, has yet to be planted with acacia or comprises peat swamp deeper than 3 metres. As LEI's website has not been updated for the past year, there is no easy way for the public to check exactly which area has been certified. Moreover, the award was only at bronze level.

This partial certification means that it will not be possible to tell whether paper produced from RAPP pulp came from certified timber, non-certified timber or a mixture. The percentage of certified timber in the pulp may be very low indeed for several years. Even after 2010, the paper pulp will come from plantations that were mature rainforest a mere decade earlier.

FSC certification, plantations and paper

The Forest Stewardship Council's Principle 10, the Plantation Principle, acknowledges the importance of plantations to socially, environmentally and economically responsible forest management. Central to the application of Principle 10 is the rationale that responsible plantation management can '… complement the management of, reduce pressures on, and promote the restoration and conservation of natural forests'. However, plantation management remains controversial.

Plantation management can help reduce pressure on natural forests by producing greater wood and fibre yields from smaller areas. In the FSC system, plantations must meet the requirements of all ten FSC Principles in order to generate social, economic and environmental benefits.

FSC does not support conversion of natural forests into plantations. Criterion 10.9 of the Plantation Principle states that forests converted to plantations after November 1994, the publication date of the first official FSC Principles and Criteria, will not normally be certified. Plantations established prior to November 1994, however, are not affected by this requirement.

Plantations converted from natural forests after November 1994 may be certified if the forest manager can demonstrate that they were not responsible for the conversion.

FSC certification for paper means that 70% of the virgin content of the sheet is guaranteed to come from FSC-certified sustainably managed forests or plantations. The weakness of this policy is that 30% of the virgin pulp could come from mature rainforest cleared for acacia or oil palm plantations - yet the paper can still carry the FSC-certified logo. Moreover, for paper which is a mixture of virgin and recycled pulp, the FSC content can be low as 10%.

FSC's certification of plantations has always been contentious. Some groups, like the World Rainforest Movement, have argued that 'plantations are not forests', just areas of tree crops which contribute nothing to biodiversity and offer few jobs, and have called on the FSC to cease plantation certification altogether. Industry groups, on the other hand, have argued that the 1994 cut off date is unreasonable and have urged the FSC to find a way of recognising their efforts to 'reforest' areas that may have been cleared as long as 12 years ago. In response, the FSC embarked over two years ago on a Plantations Review (see: which has not only reviewed Principle 10 but also the applicability to plantations of all the other FSC Principles and Criteria. The conclusions of this review are expected later this year.

(Source: FSC website:; FSC Chain of Custody Standard, 2004)

Peat swamp forest destruction

Indonesian and international CSOs expressed strong disapproval of the RAPP certification and have criticised LEI for giving its mark of approval to a company which has caused forest destruction and social conflict. Both RAPP and Raja Garuda Mas have poor track records on social and environmental issues, including forest destruction, violation of community rights and social conflict. RAPP has cleared and drained 50,000 ha of peat swamp in the western part of Kampar. It also built a road through the remaining forest area, without the legally required environmental impact assessment, causing illegal logging, fires and disturbing the water balance of the surrounding peat swamp up to 10 km from the road. The Kampar and Siak rivers have been polluted by RAPP's operations.

Furthermore, APRIL recently submitted a request to Riau's governor for another 215,790 ha HTI concession. The company intends to clear fell peat swamp and mangrove forests to establish acacia plantations, thus threatening the second largest remaining area of peat swamp forest in the world. WALHI, Jikalahari, the paper pulp advocacy network CAPPA, German forest campaigners Robin Wood and Friends of the Earth Finland and England issued a joint press statement about the way Riau's forests have been stripped to supply RAPP and Indah Kiat and the need to protect the swamp forests of the Kampar peninsula from further destruction.

Social conflict

LEI's certification assessor, PT Mutu Lestari Agung, appears to have ignored RAPP's violations of indigenous rights. The establishment of RAPP's plantations has affected a total of 85 villages and many have long-standing grievances against the company. Last July, dozens of indigenous people were made homeless when RAPP destroyed their homes in the village of Kusuma in the Pelalawan district of Riau. Within 100 days of the certification, hundreds of RAPP employees attacked villagers from Gading Permai in the Kampar district in early May. They drove them from land which they had planted with oil palm and burnt their shelters (see box). There was a similar incident in November 2004 when around 500 RAPP staff attacked people from Koto Baru village and forced them to leave disputed land.

LEI's position is that its system is based on Forest Management Units (FMU), so it cannot refuse a certificate if only one of several FMUs operated by a company fulfils all LEI's criteria. It argues that the certification of one FMU can be used as a lever to improve standards in all the other FMUs controlled by the same company. At least one activist compares the situation to giving a human rights award to a company of which only part is carrying out torture!

However, the RAPP partial certification could just be the first in a series as Indonesian timber and pulp producers have begun to realise that voluntary certification can increase access to markets and silence their critics (see below). The Sinar Mas/APP Group will be watching developments carefully. APP is by far the dominant player in Indonesian pulp processing as well as paper and board production. The group owns two of the nation's largest pulp mills: Indah Kiat in Riau and Lontar Papyrus in Jambi. Indonesian and international NGOs will be also be watching the certifiers to make sure that certification standards are not further diluted.

(Sources: Jakarta Post 14/Mar/06; APRIL Press release 16/Mar/06; Riau NGOs' letter to LEI 4/Apr/06; Riau Tribune 7/Apr/06; Factsheet on Kampar peninsula and paper industry, WALHI 11Apr/06; CAPPA Press statements 19/Apr/06: Sumatra's peat swamp forest threatened with collapse, 8/May/06: Civil violence claims victims.; and pers com with LEI and other organisations in Indonesia.)

Local community attacked by Riau Andalan's security

The people of Gading Permai village in Kampar district of Riau had returned to farm 2,000 ha of land where the community used to live in the 1960s. Under customary law, this is still their land, and people wanted to plant it with oil palm. Graves and the remains of houses were still visible. However, there had been a long-running dispute with PT Siak Raya Timber which also claimed the land. The logging company released its concession to Riau Andalan Pulp & Paper (RAPP) in 2003.

After RAPP took over the land, it pressed the people to stop planting their own oil palm and to plant acacia for the company. There was intimidation by the security forces but the Gading Permai Farmers Group continued to work. The company then reported the group to the local police. Two of its leaders were formally accused of planting an illegal 200 ha plantation in April 2006.

The community and company agreed to meet to discuss the issues on May 1st this year. However, on that day, some 300 company employees - ordinary workers as well as security forces - forced people to leave the settlements they had set up on the disputed land. Around twenty wooden huts and a small prayer house were damaged and or burned. Local people say some RAPP staff used heavy machinery; others hit the villagers with rattan whips. One man had to have 14 stitches in his head. Four people were detained, but managed to escape. Many people lost valuable possessions in the attack, including money and jewellery. A RAPP statement tells a very different version saying that its security forces were protecting workers planting acacia from seventy farmers armed with air rifles, spears, knives and arrows. It also says injuries to villagers were only slight and damage to the musholla was accidental. However, the company was clearly expecting trouble as it had an ambulance at the ready. RAPP is said to use a private security force called Shield, a subsidiary of a US company.

In the following days, some 200 RAPP employees came to the place where the villagers were sheltering and threatened them, apparently looking for certain individuals. They forced a few men to strip and crouch on the ground and then kicked them. RAPP is now guarding the disputed land and prohibiting access to it.

A local NGO commented: "Incidents like the attack on the Gading Permai community have been repeatedly carried out by RAPP's security in response to the social and land disputes surrounding RAPP's industrial tree plantations. They are deeply disturbing particularly because RAPP is always held up as a shining example in comparison with the bad practices of other companies. However, behind all the public relations, RAPP is still committed to the culture of violence and the same dirty practices as all the rest".

Riau NGOs are calling on the police and the local authorities to investigate thoroughly the human rights violations caused by RAPP's security; on all bodies to withdraw their good practice awards to RAPP; on LEI to withdraw its certification. (Source: Joint statement by Gading Permai community and NGOs, via Jikalahari 9/May/06; WALHI press release 13/May/06)

East Kalimantan concession gains FSC part-certification

Sumalindo Lestari Jaya (SLJ II) was granted FCS certification in January 2006, after assessment by Smartwood. The Sumalindo Lestari Jaya Group is made up of four smaller concessions including SLJ II which has a concession area of 267,000ha in the Malinau and West Kutai districts of East Kalimantan. However, as with RAPP's certification announcement, Sumalindo's advertisements and press releases gave the clear impression that the whole Sumalindo Group had been approved.

This is the largest forest company to gain FSC certification in Indonesia. SLJ II has also joined WWF's Indonesian Forest and Trade Network (Nusa Hijau). As a result, SLJII has gained access to major US buyers such as BlueLinx Corporation who are looking for sources of meranti plywood for the construction industry and Home Depot - one of the biggest DIY chains.

Pokja Hutan Kalimantan, a group of East Kalimantan NGOs, has issued a public letter protesting about Sumalindo's certification by Smartwood. It makes 4 main points.

The East Kalimantan Working Group on Forests demands that the FSC:

  1. revokes the Sustainable Forest Management and Chain of Custody Certificates;
  2. does not award any further certificates until it responds to the concerns at the community level;
  3. carries out a thorough review of Smartwood's assessment and Sumalindo's assessors;
  4. implements principles that are in the interests of indigenous communities and the environment, rather than those of the international timber trade.

    For a more detailed analysis of the SLJ II certification, see article by Marcus Colchester, 'FSC dilemmas in the heart of Borneo', April 2006, WRM Bulletin 104.

    (Sources: East Kalimantan Working Group on Forests 26/Apr/06; WWF Indonesia press release 27/Feb/2006)

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