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Mercury Paper responds

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Holly Crim of Berryville, a wrapper operator at Mercury Paper, measures the circumference of a roll of toilet paper as it heads down the assembly line at Mercury Paper in Strasburg. Rich Cooley/Daily

Official: Kroger didn't approach parent company

By Kaitlin Mayhew -- kmayhew@nvdaily.com

STRASBURG -- A report by a group of nonprofit environmental agencies is critical of Asia Pulp and Paper Co.'s environmental practices in Indonesia, concerns that already have led The Kroger Co. to cease stocking the firm's Paseo brand tissue products.

The report, titled "Eyes on the Forest," was written by a coalition of nonprofit groups, including Friends of the Earth, Jikalahari Riau Forest Rescue Network and WWF-Indonesia. The research comes to some of the same conclusions reached by other organizations, including Greenpeace, which have launched a campaign claiming that APP's pulp mills are destroying old-growth forests and endangering wildlife habitats.

After an independent review of the alleged deforestation and animal abuse practices in Indonesia, "we chose to suspend purchasing products from the company until it seeks credible, third-party certifications related to sustainability," said Keith Dailey, director of external corporate communications for Kroger.

Philip Rundle, special adviser of corporate and government affairs for Mercury Paper, the Strasburg-based subsidiary of APP, said that to his knowledge APP never received a request for independent audits from Kroger and was not informed directly of its decision.

"We hope to work with Kroger to conduct an independent, full and proper assessment with Kroger as a leading U.S. retailer," Rundle said.

Ian Lifshitz, sustainability and public outreach manager for the Americas at APP, said that had Kroger done this the results may have been different.

"Given the opportunity, APP could have worked with Kroger to pursue an audit by an independent third party," he said.

Lifshitz said that this third party could have done a thorough investigation of APP's certifications, environmental and animal conservation efforts. "If such a process were undertaken, an independent third party would validate information and provide an unbiased assessment," he said.

He also took issue with a publicized list of companies that have pledged not to purchase APP products, such as Hasbro, Lego, Nestle and Kraft.

"This list is case in point. Like any business, we win and lose customers on a daily basis," he said. "Some we have lost for environmental concerns; however, some we have lost due to price and other business decisions."

The organizations that were a part of the report, however, believe these environmental concerns are a huge problem.

One portion of the report claims that in several specified locations, APP is logging forests for paper pulp within its own tiger sanctuary that it has sworn to conserve.

Lifshitz said that these claims are false, and pointed to an Indonesian government map.
"This map shows very clearly that the photos ["Eyes on the Forest"] features prominently in its report are actually from inside our supplier's legally operated pulpwood concession -- which is located outside of the Senepis Tiger Sanctuary," he said.

However, the boundaries for the tiger sanctuary have changed since APP originally proposed it in 2006.

Linda Kramme, a WWF forest expert, said that the logging locations designated in the report were originally within the sanctuary.

Rolf Skar, senior campaigner for Greenpeace, came to the same conclusion after studying the maps.

"This is classic APP. They are not arguing that clearance isn't happening where ["Eyes on the Forest"] identified deforestation. Nor are they claiming that forest is not important for tigers," he said. "Instead they've simply produced a map that shows the boundaries of the tiger sanctuary having mysteriously shifted from its original 2006 boundaries, excluding the deforestation in question."

Skar went on to say that the boundaries defined by APP in 2006 were the only public, special definition of the sanctuary until it responded to the report with new boundaries in recent weeks.

APP also recently released a sustainability report, prepared by a company called GRI. APP received an A-plus sustainability rating according to GRI's standards.

"Our report provides painstaking detail into our various activities across Indonesia, including human rights and labor practices, economic development, supply chain management, environmental performance and sustainability initiatives, community relations programs and governance," Lifshitz said.

Kramme said she is less sure of the reliability of the report because GRI reports look at mill emissions, social responsibility and other operations of the plants that are self-reported.

"GRI reviews the reports but does not confirm the source of a company's raw materials or do first hand investigations," she said. "So APP's A-plus grade from GRI means that APP submitted a report that was graded without any on-the-ground investigations or significant review."

Kramme also said that two organizations, the Forest Stewardship Council and the Rainforest Alliance, have both disassociated themselves from APP.

Lifshitz, however, said APP suppliers have set aside an area for pure conservation purposes that spans over 200,000 hectares, which is more than 70 percent larger than Indonesian law requires.

"We stand by the fact that our tissue products are 100 percent sustainable as well as the environmental sustainability practices of our key supplier, APP, which exceed international standards," Rundle said.

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