Kiwi brand Cottonsoft allegedly toilet papering its way to deforestation—updated

Kiwi brand Cottonsoft allegedly toilet papering its way to deforestation—updated

Take one quick look at the Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) website and you’ll be greeted by a company that champions its sustainability and CSR initiatives. But the global company, who also owns New Zealand-based company Cottonsoft, has been embroiled in sustainability hypocrisy as of late with claims by numerous groups it is wiping out the habitat of the endangered Sumatran tiger in Indonesia. Groups including Greenpeace, the Green Party and WWF-New Zealand are all speaking out and even The Warehouse has suspended orders of Cottonsoft toilet rolls, pending further investigation into the claims. But Cottonsoft is describing the allegations as "factually inaccurate and groundless".

 According to the Rainforest Action Network (RAN), APP has been clear cutting and draining huge areas of Indonesia's diverse rainforests and peatlands. The organisation has released a case study on the issues titled Corruption, Land Conflict and Forest Destruction, based on trip the organisation took to the village in November 2009. RAN says that once the areas have been cleared, they are converted into acacia pulp wood plantations used to make cheap paper products. In the process, communities are devastated and species like the Sumatran tiger are being driven towards extinction. 

The Vancouver Sun reported that APP responded to the report by sending speedboats and helicopters to the village to question the locals on the matter. APP’s sustainability and public outreach manager for the Americas, Ian Lifshitz, told the Vancouver Sun: 

“We went out and spoke to those villagers and we have video footage in their own words. Those allegations are completely false.” 

RAN maintained its report was accurate and says APP has since gone on to hire PR company Cohn and Wolfe to help “clean up its image through flowery words and visionary statements”. 

The sustainability and CSR section of the APP website is certainly brimming with environmental initiatives undertaken by the company, many of which involve efforts to save the Sumatran tiger. As an example, the top two stories in the list are titled Sumatran Tiger Relocated to New Home Marks Success Story for Indonesian Tiger Partnership andExclusive Rare Footage of Endangered Sumatran Tiger Taking Her First Steps into New Home. 

Greenpeace, the Green Party and WWF-New Zealand have collaboratively undertaken an eight month investigation into exactly where the toilet paper sold by New Zealand retailers originates from. According to the organisations, Cottonsoft refused to disclose where they were sourcing their toilet paper from so samples were sent to a US laboratory for forensic testing. 

The trio have called on retailers to stop stocking Cottonsoft and other APP Products until the company commits to ending rainforest destruction. They have also asked the public to use their consumer power to force Cottonsoft products off the shelves. Greenpeace has launched a petition accompanied by the video below showing a Sumatran tiger caught in a trap in an APP logging concession in Riau, Indonesia.

The petition seems to already have made an impact on the Warehouse's purchasing decisions. In an email to a concerned customer The Warehouse stated: “The Warehouse will suspend all orders relating to this product range pending further information from all related parties.”

A shoppers guide to help consumers find rainforest friendly toilet paper has also been made available.

"Many New Zealanders will want to make sure their shopping choices are not harming forests and wildlife in Indonesia," said WWF New Zealand executive director Chris Howe. "We encourage people to help ensure the forest homes of endangered tigers and orangutans remain in tact by using the consumer guide to make the right choice at the checkout.”  

Cottonsoft's director of corporate affairs Steve Nicholson has described the allegations as "entirely erroneous", adding the company understands how important it is to "maintain strong sustainability practices".

“Additionally, Cottonsoft’s supplier APP conserves rare and endangered species, and places the protection of species, such as the Sumatran tiger, at the heart of its operational and CSR policies. Of the area that APP controls, which constitutes 1.5 percent of Indonesia’s landmass, 40 percent is set aside for conservation.”

Nicholson further defended all four of Cottonsoft's retail brands by citing that each carries certification under PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification).

According to Cottonsoft, fibre for the retail brands referred to by Greenpeace is either PEFC-certified or certified as non-controversial by PEFC, and backed up by verification from international audit organisation SGS. All raw materials sourced from Indonesia and used by Cottonsoft comply with fundamental ILO (International Labour Organization) Conventions in forest management.

On its website, Cottonsoft maintains it publishes "relevant procurement and commitment to sustainability policies that support responsible purchasing and forestry practices" and that it is dedicated to "purchasing raw materials only from suppliers who support and promote sustainable forestry practices". 

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