Indonesia’s Largest Driver Of Deforestation Shifts Gears

Orangutan_Indonesia_KSauveBy Nicole Rycroft


On a recent visit to northern Sumatra I was struck by just how spectacular a global legacy the rainforests of Indonesia are. Home to orangutans, tigers, elephants and rhinos, Indonesia’s lush rainforests are the inspiration of storybooks. And with 60 billion metric tons of carbon stored in Indonesia’s peatlands, these forests are unsung heroes for our climate. Years of industrial forestry and land clearing for pulp, paper and palm oil production have taken a heavy toll, leaving massive tracts of land despoiled and Indonesia as the world’s third largest greenhouse gas emitter.

However, this week brought fresh hope for these fragile ecosystems, when The Royal Golden Eagle (RGE) Group of companies committed to halt deforestation and restore some of its devastating historical impacts.

The Royal Golden Eagle (RGE) Group of companies has long been a controversial player in the global forestry landscape. A holdout in a sea change of other Indonesian resource companies’ “zero-deforestation” commitments, RGE was the poster bad-boy for communities and local and international NGO’s alike. However, with the release of their Sustainability Framework, RGE has pledged to dramatically change the way they do business, putting into motion a process to clean up its operations.

Until this week, RGE held the dubious title of being the single largest driver of deforestation in Indonesia. It has an enormous footprint both in Indonesia and around the world. Its forestry business units and affiliates include viscose producer Sateri, as well as pulp and paper giant APRIL, and dissolving pulp producers Bracell Limited and Toba Pulp Lestari.

There are a number of key components in RGE’s Sustainability Framework that are worthy of applause. They have pledged to end deforestation, eliminate sourcing from ancient and endangered forests, protect biodiversity, respect human rights and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Worthy goals!

Of course, translation of this framework into practices on the ground is where the rubber hits the road and until then we won’t know that real change is happening. RGE has poor track record of upholding these kinds of agreements. That’s why civil society and the marketplace will be engaged in, and closely tracking, RGE’s implementation efforts over the coming years.

Noteworthy about RGE’s framework is the extension of these principles to all of their forestry units and affiliates. The expectation from the marketplace is that all business units in the RGE group develop equivalent, or better, policy commitments over the next few months. The Sustainability Framework creates a vehicle for that to finally happen.

APRIL is the first subsidiary to do so under this new paradigm. It launched its revised sustainable forest management policy on the same day as the broader RGE framework. APRIL, Indonesia’s second largest pulp and paper company, has pledged to immediately end deforestation, restore and protect the forests and peatlands of Indonesia and to address social issues including adopting Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) to ensure community rights are protected. Again, a promising commitment for which bold implementation will be key.

In hot pursuit of APRIL’s commitment, Canopy and our partners in the CanopyStyle campaign are looking to Sateri, APRIL’s sister company and one of the world’s largest viscose/rayon producers, to be the next RGE company to roll out a robust policy.

Given the structure of its business and policy precedents set by the world’s two largest viscose producers, Sateri’s commitment needs to go further than APRIL’s – with stronger commitments to ensure its global sourcing does not originate from endangered forests. Sateri has a global footprint in its operations and fiber sourcing practice. By influencing their suppliers and other key decision makers, it can play an important role in advancing conservation solutions in critical hotspots both in Indonesia and around the world.

Translating these commitments from ‘on paper’ to the forest floor will require tenacity, leadership and deep commitment. However, with this sustainability framework and APRIL’s policy, RGE has taken a positive first step towards repairing its historical damage, restoring its reputational capital and building a better tomorrow for the world’s forests and the communities that depend on them.

We’re cautiously optimistic. RGE needs to be encouraged and held accountable to its commitment. Canopy will continue to work with its corporate partners in the market place to ensure this policy rolls out. We look forward to Sateri and other RGE business units following suit.


Photo by K. Sauve