Lawmakers in Canada are calling for an investigation into one of North America’s largest pulp and paper manufacturers, following revelations in Deforestation Inc., a cross-border investigation led by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.
The parliamentarians said they are seeking answers into who is behind Paper Excellence, a company headquartered in British Columbia, after journalists revealed extensive links between the company and entities in Indonesia and China.
“These are pretty stunning allegations. This is public land of Canada that’s now under the control of this company,” Member of Parliament Charlie Angus told ICIJ partner Glacier Media. “I think this is in the public interest. I think this should be beyond partisan. We need to know who this company is, how they operate [and] what their connections are.”
On Tuesday, Angus raised the Deforestation Inc. findings at a House of Commons’ Standing Committee on Natural Resources hearing, challenging Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson on whether or not the government had adequately scrutinized Paper Excellence’s operations and corporate ownership. Wilkinson said that the government performed its due diligence and directed Angus’ questions to the Ministers of National Security and Economic Development.
Angus, who has called for Paper Excellence executives to be summoned by the committee, introduced a motion on Tuesday for a debate on the company. Other lawmakers have questioned whether Paper Excellence’s recent billion-dollar acquisitions of other forestry companies were sufficiently vetted by the Canadian government. With its most recent purchases, the company now controls nearly 54 million acres of Canadian forests and has also expanded its operations in the United States.
Paper Excellence says it is owned solely by Jackson Wijaya, a member of Indonesia’s powerful Widjaja family. The company says it operates completely independently from the Widjajas’ Asia Pulp & Paper, a Chinese-Indonesian forestry company that has long been accused of deforestation and human rights abuses. But Deforestation Inc. reporters in Canada and France, found evidence suggesting Paper Excellence and APP share a deeper relationship than has previously been reported. The journalists interviewed former employees and analyzed shipping and court records and corporate documents spanning 15 years. They also reviewed leaked emails that showed staff worked freely between the two companies.
In an interview following Tuesday’s meeting, Natural Resources Minister Wilkinson told ICIJ partners in Canada that he became aware of the links between Paper Excellence, APP and the Widjaya family after the publication of Deforestation Inc.
‘A direct pipeline’
Glacier Media’s review of shipping data showed that pulp shipments from Canada have gone to buyers with opaque corporate ownership in Indonesia and China. Reporters reviewed satellite images and marine tracking technology to trace a pulp shipment from a mill in British Columbia to Shanghai, which ended up at a company with corporate links to APP. A spokesperson for APP denied ever buying pulp “directly” from Paper Excellence but former employers and industry insiders told journalists the shipping operations are part of “a direct pipeline quietly funneling biomass from Canadian and French forests to APP’s operations in Indonesia and China.”
Reporters also looked into Paper Excellence’s lobbying history in Canada and France and found the company has received more than $300 million in government loans, subsidies and tax exemptions since 2010.
The Halifax Examiner’s reporting included the story of a whistleblower from China that helped unveil the corporate links between APP and Paper Excellence. The outlet also told the story of a massive spill of untreated and highly toxic effluent from a Paper Excellence mill into indigenous burial grounds in Nova Scotia, and its effects on the Pictou Landing First Nation community.
CBC News and Radio Canada looked into Paper Excellence’s financing in Canada, revealing that the company obtained a $1.25 billion credit through a Chinese government-owned bank in 2012. The company did not answer questions about the loan.
Radio France and Le Monde reported on the hidden links between APP and Fibre Excellence (Paper Excellence’s French subsidiary), revealing that at least 10 executives worked for both companies, sometimes at the same time.
In France, where Fibre Excellence operates two pulp mills, reporters also looked into the company’s environmental impact, and wrote about the case of a wood supplier convicted of illegal logging in a protected area. The logger was listed among Fibre Excellence’s local providers. The company said it cut links with the supplier when it became aware of the accusations.