Britain's biggest supermarket group is selling paper products made by a company that is destroying thousands of hectares of Indonesian rainforest and threatening the habitat of the critically endangered Sumatran tiger.
Tesco has continued to buy paper products from Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) after Sainsbury's and Marks & Spencer cancelled contracts because of the company's environmental record.
An investigation by The Times has established that APP is feeding its Indah Kiat paper mill in Sumatra, Indonesia, with thousands of tonnes of rainforest logs a week. Of the 20 giant barges we witnessed queueing at the mill's port last week, five were full of rainforest logs, ten contained a mix of plantation wood and rainforest logs and five contained only plantation wood. Overall, about half of the timber was from rainforests.
APP is clearing rainforest in the Bukit Tigapuluh Forest Landscape, which has the only reintroduction project for the Sumatran orang-utan and is also one of the last refuges of the Sumatran tiger. APP is also responsible for releasing vast amounts of greenhouse gases by draining and cultivating deep peatlands in Riau province.
APP claimed that it preserved some natural forest within its concessions to protect wildlife but The Times visited an APP concession in Siak, Riau province, and found that the company had recently dug a drainage canal across the centre of its so-called conservation area.
Tigers will not cross such man-made barriers. The canals also cause the surrounding land to sink, killing the trees and releasing carbon stored in the soil and wood.
Tesco sells 80 types of paper products made by APP, including Tesco-branded sketch pads, writing paper and cards. Tesco has ignored several reports over the past eight years that have documented the damage done by APP to rainforests.
In 2007, the Forest Stewardship Council, which certifies sustainable forest products, revoked APP's certificate. In 2008, the Rainforest Alliance's Smart-Wood certification programme also cut all links with APP. Sainsbury's responded by banning APP materials from its products and last year it delisted a supplier that used APP pulp.
After being contacted by The Times, Tesco said it would stop selling ownbranded products containing materials from APP by the end of this year. A spokesman said that the company had decided more than a year ago to withdraw from its contracts with APP. "We have been looking for an exit route for some time but it takes a long time to sign up new suppliers."
Asked why Tesco had acted slower than other retailers, he said: "It might be that it was easier for Marks to do it. I don't know why we weren't as quick as others." He said that the commitment applied only to Tesco-branded products. "We are not engaging in a witch-hunt," he said.
APP said that it cleared only "low-value or degraded" rainforest.
Environmental groups said that this commitment was worthless because the definition of degraded forest was broad.
The company said that only 15 per cent of its pulp had come from rainforests in the past two years and it aimed to reduce it from "2010 onwards" to 10 per cent. APP is part of the Sinar Mas group, which was found last year to be illegally clearing rainforest to develop palm oil plantations.
New canal drains life from tiger habitat
First person Ben Webster
A yellow sign marked the boundary between rows of young palm trees and a tangle of rainforest. The sign, written in Indonesian and carrying the label of RML, part of the Asia Pulp &Paper group, said:
"Conservation area — it is prohibited to cut or damage trees or hunt wild animals. Maximum penalty of ten years in prison or a fine of 5 billion rupiah [£360,000]."
About 200 metres farther along the boundary, we found a freshly dug drainage canal that sliced across the heart of the conservation area.
As the land drains, the forest begins to die and the land can be declared "degraded" and suitable for conversion to plantations. APP was unable to explain to The Times why RML had damaged its own conservation area. This pocket of 570 hectares of preserved land in Siak was surrounded by new palm oil and acacia plantations. Tigers are solitary animals and each one needs about 10,000 hectares of hunting territory.
On the drive back to Pekanbaru, we overtook lorries packed with logs.
Some were heading to two pulp mills owned by APP, which, according to the WWF, is the company that causes the most loss of rainforest in Sumatra. APP has set, and missed, several deadlines for ending its destruction of the rainforest and sourcing logs from sustainable plantations.
Last week it welcomed a plan by Norway to pay Indonesia $1 billion (£560 million) in return for a two-year moratorium on new logging concessions. It has already been granted new concessions covering more than 460,000 hectares (1,780sq miles) of rainforest.
Tesco sells 80 types of paper products that are supplied by Asia Pulp & Paper.
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