08.08.2014 Author: Natalia Rogozhina

Deforestation in South-East Asia (SEA)

jrn40207Among the many reasons leading to the deforestation in SEA countries, accounting for a quarter of all the world’s reserves of rain forest, the most dangerous are those related to commercial forest clearing. Big companies are actively participating in this, and the significant role is being played by the Indonesian woodworking company Asian Pulp and Paper (APP). Founded in Indonesia in 1984, until recently it has been criticized on part of the local and international communities for its illegal logging activities.

APP is operating in China and many other SEA countries, and as a rule selects those where the local authorities, corrupted and making profit at the expense of granting concessions to foreign companies, turn the blind eye on the illegal forest clearing.

Recently, its activities in Laos and Cambodia are raising concerns, as it performs its operations in the reserve area of Botum Sakor National Park. This became possible due to the patronage of influential political circles, which in exchange for generous rewards, granted authorization to APP to cut over the virgin forests.

Connections to the local elite allowed Asian Pulp and Paper to hew down these trees for many years, without fear of being punished for the violation of ecology instructions. According to the data of international organizations Global Witness and World Wildlife Fund, APP as a rule, created sawmills without calculating the possibility of wood deliveries beforehand. The behavioral model adopted by it was simple and time proved – to leave the logging areas prior to its consequences attracting ecologists’ attention. The latter had something to take care of – centenary trees were cut down, the ecosystem was disturbed, the conditions of living were undermined for the indigenous people.

The bargains with the local authorities were usually discussed behind closed doors and did not require the tendering process and environmental impact audit. However, the protests by the public and ecologists put an end to these activities of the company, which were ruining the nature in the majority of SEA countries, and made it adopt a new operational strategy. It was done as a result of worsening its position on the world market.

The point is that the indecent image of the company caused large trans-national corporations, worried about keeping up their reputation, and among them there were Danone, Xerox and the publishing group Collins, to refuse purchasing APP wood and paper-based products after disclosure of the information regarding its taking part in illegal deforestation in Indonesia, where some exotic species such as Sumatran tiger were endangered. Many other international companies are ready to follow this initiative. Following the public accusations, the company APP announced that it was ready to guarantee its observance of ecology regulations.

Having found itself under the threat of shaking-out from the world markets, APP made a statement in which it noted that it uses rigid standards in its activities to prevent any illegal operations. Nevertheless, it did not miss the opportunity to say that ‘no system in the world, irrespective of its rigidity, can be 100% reliable’.

According to the ecologists’ point of view, the company APP will stop losing clients only when it becomes a responsible supplier of wood and paper-based products.

Under the situation when the public opinion becomes a powerful force influencing the status of the company on the world market, APP has nothing left now, except to paying huge attention to its ecological policy. Not so long ago the company claimed that it had stopped the felling of trees in virgin forests and moves to the wood production on plantations whilst taking into account the interests of local people and norms of traditional land title. This promise made by APP convinced Greenpeace, which earlier accused the company of ‘turning the planet into the pulp stock’, to stop arranging protests against it.

However, preservation of tropical forests and successful combating illegal forest operations in SEA largely depends on the consistent corruption-free policy implemented by these countries.

Natalya Rogozhina, Ph.D in Political Sciences, Head Research Fellow at Institute of World Economy and International Relations of the Russian Academy of Sciences, special contribution for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.