Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), one of the world’s largest paper companies, is mired in more than one hundred active conflicts over land rights with rural communities across the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Borneo, resisting repeated demands from activists to be transparent about progress made towards settling its disputes, a new study has found.
While APP claimed last year it had resolved 49 per cent of the conflicts related to its operations, the report, by a coalition of Indonesian organisations and the Environmental Paper Network (EPN), highlights the firm has not publicly disclosed information on its clashes with villagers and conflict-resolution processes to date.
In response to queries from Eco-Business, the paper giant said given the complexity of social conflicts, it had decided not to share information on agreements reached between suppliers and communities, while withholding sensitive details also served to protect the privacy of villagers.
Commenting on the assertion, Sergio Baffoni, senior forest campaigner at Environmental Paper Network and one of the lead authors of the study, told Eco-Business: “A fair resolution process is based upon complete and transparent information, and benefits the community. If this is the aim of APP, I do not see a point in keeping strict confidentiality.”
The majority of the 107 disputes the research has identified are concentrated in Riau, Jambi and South Sumatra—provinces on the island of Sumatra, where the controversial Indonesian paper company manages vast swaths of acacia plantations to produce the fibre used to make paper.
Most conflicts reported relate to disputes over rights to customary land or overlaps between concession and village boundaries, followed by conflicts associated with areas inside concessions that companies are obliged to reserve for local communities, evictions, and unfulfilled compensation.
Adding to these disputes are more than five hundred looming conflicts, with villages located within or adjacent to APP’s concessions at risk of seeing their livelihoods uprooted by logging operations.
When disputed land has been converted for pulpwood, conflicts become extremely difficult to resolve, according to Baffoni. He said in most cases, conflict-ridden villagers preferred taking back their land to ensure subsistence for their families, but while plantation firms might be willing to pay for past damages, they were usually less inclined to give up plantations.
Through low financial compensation, affected communities are often persuaded to use their land to grow trees for the company’s wood fibre needs. Such partnerships imply the firm effectively continues to manage the disputed area, blocking villagers’ crucial access to farmland and forests, Baffoni noted.
APP has a long legacy of land grabs and land rights violations. For decades, it has been criticised for acquiring land without community consent and inflicting harm on indigenous communities.