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Deforestation: Greenpeace picks on Santander in campaign against APRIL

A casual observer might be forgiven for thinking that the NGO campaigner battle against large companies on deforestation has been won.Charts like the below from the excellent are clearly great cause for optimism.

However, whilst many of the large brands and their big suppliers formerly accused of deforestation are now trying to implement policy to some tight 2015/16 or 2020 deadlines, there’s still a long way to go.

Royal Golden Eagle Group, for example, is a Singapore based Indonesian company known to many as APRIL in the forestry sector.

APRIL, which has been campaigned against for more than a decade, as APP was before they did a deal with NGOs, doesn’t have APP’s concession land, and so is not self sufficient in plantation fibre (albeit on peatlands in many cases). So, the story goes, they can’t ‘afford’ to be more sustainable than they were, as Asia Pulp & Paper can today.

Another way of putting it is that APP has invested considerably in sustainability, whilst APRIL hasn’t and that APRIL simply doesn’t want to stop cutting down valuable forest for a few more years.

The truth, as so often, depends on who you talk to. APRIL will give you a different account from the NGOs. But who do we trust?

For most people, it will be the NGOs such as Greenpeace and Rainforest Action Network, WWF, and many others. (That’s not to say they are problem-free organisations, as I document here)

That goes for brands too, as we saw in the campaign against APP until a couple of years ago.

Big companies of course, don’t trust the NGOs in the same way the campaigners’ members do, but when they feel the pain of campaigns biting on their reputations, actions to shed the shadow of association are usually the best course of action, as well as the most efficient.

In some/many cases, we see engagement (depending on how you define that!), and that can result in some changes like these.

So this latest development should be interesting. Greenpeace are now targeting Spanish bank Santander, a financial outfit with a huge footprint and which has made many commitments to sustainability.

They say the bank loaned significant sums to APRIL, from at least 2011 onwards.

Greenpeace’s Richard George tells me:

“They have confirmed the loans, and say they are keeping an eye on things”

The bank’s response is here.

I asked several Santander spokespeople for their views or comments and in particular this text in their statement:

“In recent months, Banco Santander requested they undergo an independent audit into their environmental practices. This has been carried out by APRIL’s independent Stakeholder Advisory Committee (SAC) and KPMG, and APRIL will put out an action plan in response to their recommendations.”
I asked: “Have you set a deadline for the action plan and is there an expectation that it will go beyond the plans so far? (All of which have been rejected by leading environmental NGOs as not being up to international standards)”.
The bank’s response was to say they have nothing further to add. In the absence of a useful comment from them, I went back to Richard George at Greenpeace. His view is that this is a:

“Bit of a non-starter response really – that KPMG report they refer to found that not one of APRIL’s supplying concessions met with APRIL’s policy. Never mind that every major international / Indonesian environmental NGO has condemned the policy as weak. Saying ‘we still need more evidence of wrongdoing / more time for APRIL to remedy its failings’ when the company in question is merrily pulping rainforests is a cop out.”

APRIL of course, claims to be an environmental paragon of virtue. Santander is keeping quiet, perhaps hoping this will all go away.

I somehow doubt it will. Watch this space is the most overused and cliched way to end an article or post but it does seem to apply here.

Greenpeace and some of their current and former corporate targets will be getting together at the below meeting in the US in a couple of months time. Expect a few fireworks, details below.
April 14-15 2015 – Washington, D.C. – How Business can Tackle Deforestation – Understand deforestation risk, benchmark your policies and collaborate effectively with NGOs
With: Wilmar, Greenpeace, TFT, WWF, WRI, Disney, Staples, 3M, Weyerhaeuser, Dunkin’ Brands, Rainforest Alliance, Hershey, ADM, New Britain Palm Oil, Sime Darby, IOI Loders Croklaan, Friends of the Earth, Calvert and many others.