Pressure is mounting for one of North America’s largest pulp and paper companies to face consequences over its alleged ties to a Chinese-Indonesian forestry company accused of environmental destruction and human rights abuses.
Two environmental watchdogs, Greenpeace Canada and Indonesia’s Auriga Nusantara, have called on the Forest Stewardship Council, an international nonprofit that promotes and certifies “sustainable” timber products, to acknowledge that Canadian forestry giant Paper Excellence and Asia Pulp & Paper, or APP, are “two sides of the same coin.”
FSC formally disassociated with APP in October 2007 citing “substantial, publicly available information that APP was involved in destructive forestry practices.” Paper Excellence denies corporate links with APP but investigations by ICIJ partners and others have cast doubt on the claim.
On Nov. 8, Greenpeace Canada and Auriga Nusantara submitted a complaint to FSC, calling for it to publicly recognize the two companies’ connection and to disassociate from Paper Excellence and its affiliates — a move that would preclude them from FSC certification. At present, 42 Paper Excellence-owned pulp, paper, and saw mills operate with FSC certifications in Canada, the United States and France, according to Greenpeace.
“Canadians, who like us Indonesians are already dealing with uncontrollable forest fires and dangerous air quality, deserve to know that Paper Excellence’s sister company APP has in Indonesia one of the worst corporate track records not only in deforestation but for forest fires as well,” said Auriga Nusantara chairman Timur Manurung in a press release.
Earlier this year, ICIJ’s Deforestation Inc. investigation highlighted the opaque corporate structures linking Paper Excellence to APP, a subsidiary of the Sinar Mas Group owned by Indonesia’s wealthy Widjaja family. Paper Excellence says it is owned solely by Jackson Wijaya, a member of the Widjaya family, and claims that the company operates completely independently.
But Deforestation Inc. reporters in Canada and France found evidence suggesting Paper Excellence and APP share a deeper relationship than was previously known after interviewing former employees and analyzing shipping and court records and corporate documents spanning 15 years. ICIJ partners also reviewed leaked emails that showed staff worked freely between the two companies.
The investigation built on a 2022 report by four environmental groups, including Greenpeace, that examined business registries from 10 countries and offshore records in ICIJ’s Offshore Leaks database. The report said that a “nexus of factors such as family ties, overlapping management, and lobbyist filings indicate that Sinar Mas Group controls Paper Excellence.”
In response to ICIJ’s investigation, FSC released a statement saying the organization found “no majority ownership relationship” between Paper Excellence and APP but that any alleged deforestation occurring after Jan. 1, 2023, would be evaluated under FSC’s updated risk assessment criteria, which extends to corporate groups.
In April, following the Deforestation Inc. revelations, the Canadian parliament opened an ongoing probe into Paper Excellence, which reportedly controls nearly 54 million acres of forests in Canada, and has also expanded its operations in the United States.
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So far, Wijaya has evaded scrutiny from Canadian lawmakers, twice declining invitations to appear before Canada’s Parliamentary Standing Committee on Natural Resources to answer questions about Paper Excellence’s complex corporate structure and affiliates in tax havens, according to the Halifax Examiner.
Shane Moffatt, Greenpeace Canada’s head of the food and nature campaign, told ICIJ that he hopes FSC will follow its own rules for organizations that associate with uncertified corporations, extending the scope of its dissociation with APP to Paper Excellence.
“Paper Excellence is now the largest logging company Canada has ever seen. One of our major concerns with them is how nontransparent they’ve been with their takeover of the industry,” Moffat said.
“We want to ensure the Canadian public has all the information. They deserve to know the facts about who this company is, what their intentions are and what their connections are.”