Astroturf campaign by the Consumer Alliance for Global Prosperity suffers defeat

December 23rd, 2011

Employee from APP's timber plantations

A campaign by the Consumer Alliance for Global Prosperity, a group that campaigns on behalf of Asia Pulp and Paper’s interests in the United States, failed to stop Kroger from banning APP’s paper products from its stores.

Kroger, America’s largest grocery store, on Thursday said it would no longer sell Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) products due to concerns over deforestation. The move came after Greenpeace targeted Kroger, which is believed to be the biggest U.S. seller of Paseo, APP’s toilet paper brand. Greenpeace and other environmental groups including WWF, Greenomics-Indonesia, and the Rainforest Action Network have shown that APP continues to clear rainforests and peatlands in Indonesia for fiber plantations.

The Consumer Alliance for Global Prosperity launched the PulpWars web site after Greenpeace stepped up its APP campaign last year. Its first report was modeled after a Greenpeace report, “How Sinar Mas is Pulping the Planet”, using a nearly identical layout and color scheme. Earlier this year it launched DarkWars, an anti-Greenpeace web site. Meanwhile the Facebook page run by the Consumer Alliance for Global Prosperity at times hosts comments calling for violence — including murder — against Greenpeace members.

While the Consumer Alliance for Global Prosperity has refused to reveal its financial backers, at one point APP said it “supported” the group. Later APP backtracked and said it meant it supported the group philosophically.

This fall the Consumer Alliance for Global Prosperity launched a campaign calling for some of America’s largest companies to ignore Greenpeace and continue buying APP products. The Consumer Alliance for Global Prosperity claimed the petition campaign generated 120,000 emails, but that apparently wasn’t enough to influence Kroger.

The Consumer Alliance for Global Prosperity has, on occasion, attempted to portray itself as an anti-poverty organization, yet it ignores research showing the mixed economic benefits of Indonesia’s pulp and paper industry for the rural poor. More about the economics of the pulp and paper industry in Indonesia can be found Does chopping down rainforests for pulp and paper help alleviate poverty in Indonesia?, Palm oil, paper drive large-scale destruction of Indonesia’s forests, but account for diminishing role in economy, says report, and Paper commitments for the Indonesian industry.

It’s that time of year for spin from World Growth International

November 30th, 2011

Regular Mongabay readers are probably familiar with World Growth International, the non-for-profit (*) advocate for industrial forestry that masquerades as a poverty alleviation organization. World Growth is headed by Alan Oxley, a lobbyist who served as Australian Ambassador to the GATT, the predecessor of the World Trade Organization, during the late 1980s. Oxley also heads ITS Global, which provides advisory and marketing services to outfits like Asia Pulp & Paper and Rimbunan Hijau typically when they are criticized for environmental transgressions.

This time of year is usually a busy time for World Growth, which typically issues a spate of reports, press releases, and mailings to coincide with international climate talks. 2011 is no different — in November World Growth has sent at least five mailings. Since World Growth has four of my email addresses on their list (which it appears to share with the similarly-themed Consumer Alliance for Global Prosperity and the Initiative for Public Policy Analysis), I have received 20 messages from Mr Oxley and his cohorts this month.

While unrequested 20 messages is a bit of an overkill, I do enjoy skimming World Growth’s material for mistakes, hypocrisy, and outright misrepresentations. I am never disappointed.

For example in today’s mailing World Growth complains that environmental campaigners cannot be trusted with data. It cites recent reports from WWF and Greenpeace, two of World Growth’s favorite targets (also on the list are the Rainforest Action Network, The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), and the Rainforest Alliance, all of which have less than cordial relations with Asia Pulp & Paper, an Oxley client). The mailing says WWF’s report used improper citations when it asserted that much of Southeast Asia’s plantation expansion since 1990 has occurred at the expense of natural forests.

While World Growth’s point about proper referencing is certainly valid, what makes it particularly amusing is World Growth is guilty of exactly the same thing. World Growth has routinely misrepresented information in its reports, as mongabay has documented in the past. For example in two of its reports, World Growth International misattributed views to Frances Seymour, the Director General of CIFOR, a forest policy research institution. World Growth International said Seymour, when speaking at a U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization event in 2009, blamed subsistence farmers for most deforestation, but a review of the transcript from her talk does not support this interpretation. Speaking with mongabay.com, Seymour flatly denied the notion that the poor are primarily to blame for deforestation today. Meanwhile in November 2010, the group run by the late Wangari Maathai, the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner for her tree-planting campaign in Africa, blasted World Growth International’s Oxley for using her name to imply that she supports the large-scale conversion of tropical forests for industrial plantations.

In the case of Greenpeace, today’s newsletter asserts that the lab which did testing of fiber samples for the green group “distanced itself” from Greenpeace’s claims that packaging from Asia Pulp & Paper contained rainforest fiber. Yet the lab has done no such thing — the letter from the lab doesn’t clear Asia Pulp & Paper. Furthermore Greenpeace has clearly said its campaign is based on a range of evidence of which fiber testing is only a part. World Growth conveniently ignores this, although it does try to muddy the waters by highlighting a Malaysian mill that sources fiber from rainforests.

William Laurance, a tropical ecologist from James Cook University in Australia who has been an outspoken critic of World Growth and Oxley, agrees.

“When it comes to getting facts right, the hypocrisy of Alan Oxley and World Growth is quite astounding, in my view,” said Laurance, who earlier this year debated Oxley at Australian National University. “When I highlighted some of the egregious ways that World Growth had distorted or misrepresented information, Oxley actually threatened to sue me. That was positively laughable, given that I was spot-on with my facts.”

I’m sure we’ll see a lot more from Oxley and World Growth over the next week-and-a-half. Whether or not anyone is still listening is another question.

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* While World Growth International is a not-for-profit, Alan Oxley is rewarded quite generously for his efforts. According to tax filings, he was paid roughly $10,000 an hour of work in 2008. World Growth itself doesn’t disclose its funders and Oxley is on the record saying this information is “immaterial”.

FSC-certified company clearcutting Swedish forests

June 8th, 2011

A German news show (with English subtitles) investigates clearcuts in the Swedish boreal by logging company Stora Enso, which has been certified as sustainable by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). The FSC has come under heavy fire from a number of small green groups for what they deem as ‘greenwashing’ ecologically destructive practices, however the FSC remains supported by large conservation organizations who argue that problems with certification must be changed from within.

For more information on the video: FSC Watch

For more information on the FSC debate:

Locals clash with ‘sustainable’ FSC logging company in the Congo

(05/22/2011) Two separate protests against logging companies by local communities have turned violent in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), leaving at least one dead. According to Greenpeace, one of the companies involved in the violence, Sodefor, is sustainably certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Given that the industry in DRC is rife with social conflict and corruption, Greenpeace is advocating that FSC place a moratorium on certifying new industrial-style logging concessions in the central African nation.

Complaint lodged at FSC for plantations killing baboons

(02/20/2011) The African environmental group, GeaSphere, has lodged a complaint with the Forest Stewardship Council’s (FSC) for certifying tree plantations as sustainable that are culling baboons in South Africa, as first reported by FSC-Watch. The primates are trapped with bait and then shot. According to the complaint, “unofficial numbers from reliable sources state that more than 1000 baboons have been shot over the past 2 years” in Mpumalanga Province. Documents record permits given to cull 1,914 baboons in 13 separate plantations, however Philip Owen of GeaSphere says that plantations have refused to release official data on how many baboons have been killed.

Timber certification is not enough to save rainforests

(06/02/2010) In the 1980s and 1990s pressure from activist groups led some of the world’s largest forestry products companies and retailers to join forces with environmentalists to form the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a certification standard that aims to reduce the environmental impact of wood and paper production on natural forests. Despite initial skepticism on whether buyers would pay a premium for greener forest products, FSC quickly grew and by 2000 had become a standard in many markets, including Europe and the United States. Companies like Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Ikea are today strong supporters of the FSC. But the FSC has not been without controversy. In recent years some activists have voiced concern about FSC standards as well as the credibility of auditors that certify timber operations. Among the initiative’s supporters is the Rainforest Action Network (RAN), a group best known for its aggressive protest tactics. RAN says engagement with the FSC is better than the alternative: leaving the timber industry to devise its own sustainability standards.

Greenwashing scandal hits Conservation International

May 14th, 2011

Questions are being raised about Conservation International (CI), one of the world’s largest conservation groups, after it was the target of a “sting” video by Don’t Panic magazine.

Reporters from Don’t Panic posed as representatives from Lockheed Martin, an arms manufacture, and secretly recorded conversations with CI development representative. They asked whether CI could help Lockheed Martin build a “green” image.

One of the more disturbing moments in the video comes when the “Lockheed Martin” reps ask whether CI can help reduce the environmental footprint of its manufacturing. CI says it doesn’t do that kind of work and instead gives the “Lockheed Martin” reps a menu of sponsorship options.

CI didn’t have an official response to the video.

CI recently rebranded itself to focus more on the human elements of conservation.

UPDATE May 19, 2011

CI issued a statement on the video in the form of an editorial by Peter Seligmann, Co-founder, Chairman, and CEO of Conservation International.

    Here are the facts:

    A CI employee in London was contacted by two individuals posing as representatives of a defense corporation. The individuals set up an elaborate hoax, including fake identities, a phony corporate website and a made-up inquiry about the corporation’s interest in working with CI on conservation projects. They recorded the initial phone conversation and a subsequent lunch meeting.

    They then edited these recordings to remove key elements, while using other parts out of context to paint a highly inaccurate, biased and incomplete picture of CI’s work with the private sector. Specifically, they omitted discussion of CI’s due diligence process and the need to focus on real, technical work that benefits nature and human well-being as the core of any corporate partnership.

Seligmann went on to say that engaging corporations is critical to “improving environmental practices and preserving the benefits we all receive from nature.”

The Initiative for Public Policy Analysis is a Nigeria-based palm oil lobby group

January 10th, 2011

The Initiative for Public Policy Analysis (IPPA), which describes itself as a think-tank or public policy group, has launched a campaign targeting the World Bank on its palm oil lending policy.

The Initiative for Public Policy Analysis says palm oil plays an important role in reducing poverty. What it doesn’t say is acting on behalf of the palm oil industry. The Initiative for Public Policy Analysis uses the same mailing list as World Growth International, a group that frequently lobbies on behalf of the palm oil sector, and the Consumer Alliance for Global Prosperity, a front group supported by Sinar Mas Group, an Indonesian conglomerate that controls palm oil and other forestry companies.

The Initiative for Public Policy Analysis is trying to get the World Bank to eliminate social and environmental safeguards from its framework for lending to the palm oil sector. Chief beneficiaries of the move would be large palm oil companies like Sinar Mas, which recently started building up operations in Africa, rather than small farmers.

The bank’s draft framework is available at IFC Strategy for Engagement in the Palm Oil Sector

Articles detailing the activities of affiliate of the Initiative for Public Policy Analysis:

Indonesian climate official: palm oil lobbyist is misleading the public

(12/29/2010) Alan Oxley, a lobbyist for industrial forestry companies in the palm oil and pulp and paper sectors, is deliberately misleading the public on deforestation and associated greenhouse gas emissions, said a top Indonesian climate official.

Logging, palm oil giant hires U.S. ambassador as lobbyist

(12/09/2010) Sinar Mas Group, the sprawling Indonesian conglomerate that has interests in coal mining, logging and wood-pulp production, palm oil plantations, real estate, and other industries, has hired Cameron Hume, the former U.S. ambassador to Indonesia, as an adviser, according to Detik.com. Ambassador Hume stepped down from his post at the embassy in August.

Nobel Prize winner, anti-poverty group, scientists fire back at logging lobbyist

(11/01/2010) An industrial lobbyist is facing mounting criticism for his campaign to reduce social and environmental safeguards in Indonesia.

Scientists blast greenwashing by front groups

(10/27/2010) A group of prominent scientists has published an open letter challenging the objectivity of World Growth International, an NGO that claims to operate on behalf of the world’s poor, and its leader Alan Oxley, a former trade diplomat who also chairs ITS Global, a marketing firm. The letter, published online in several forums, slams World Growth and ITS Global as a front groups for forestry companies. The scientists note that while the groups have not disclosed their sources of funding, they assert ITS receives funding from Sinar Mas, an Indonesian conglomerate that controls Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), a forest products brand, and Sinar Mas Agro Resources & Technology, a palm oil firm, among other companies.

Misleading claims from a palm oil lobbyist

(10/23/2010) In an editorial published October 9th in the New Straits Times (“Why does World Bank hate palm oil?”), Alan Oxley, a former Australian diplomat who now serves as a lobbyist for logging and plantation companies, makes erroneous claims in his case against the World Bank and the International Finance Corp (IFC) for establishing stronger social and environmental criteria for lending to palm oil companies. It is important to put Mr. Oxley’s editorial in the context of his broader efforts to reduce protections for rural communities and the environment.

Corporations, conservation, and the green movement

(10/21/2010) The image of rainforests being torn down by giant bulldozers, felled by chainsaw-wielding loggers, and torched by large-scale developers has never been more poignant. Corporations have today replaced small-scale farmers as the prime drivers of deforestation, a shift that has critical implications for conservation. Until recently deforestation has been driven mostly by poverty—poor people in developing countries clearing forests or depleting other natural resources as they struggle to feed their families. Government policies in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s had a multiplier effect, subsidizing agricultural expansion through low-interest loans, infrastructure projects, and ambitious colonization schemes, especially in the Amazon and Indonesia. But over the past two decades, this has changed in many countries due to rural depopulation, a decline in state-sponsored development projects, the rise of globalized financial markets, and a worldwide commodity boom. Deforestation, overfishing, and other forms of environmental degradation are now primarily the result of corporations feeding demand from international consumers. While industrial actors exploit resources more efficiently and cause widespread environmental damage, they also are more sensitive to pressure from consumers and environmental groups. Thus in recent years, it has become easier—and more ethical—for green groups to go after corporations than after poor farmers.

Malaysia/Indonesia partnership proposed to counter environmental complaints over palm oil

(10/18/2010) Malaysia and Indonesia should establish “a joint council based in Europe and the United States” to boost the image of palm oil and counter criticism from environmental and human rights groups, a Malaysian minister told Malaysia state press.

Fraud allegations against Indonesian palm oil giant widen, tarnishing auditors and sustainable palm oil initiative

(08/19/2010) Sinar Mas, an Indonesian conglomerate whose holdings include Asia Pulp and Paper, a paper products brand, and PT Smart, a palm oil producer, was sharply rebuked Wednesday over a recent report where it claimed not to have engaged in destruction of forests and peatlands. At least one of its companies, Golden Agri Resources, may now face an investigation for deliberately misleading shareholders in its corporate filings.