By Michael Taylor
JAKARTA (Reuters) - One of the world's biggest pulp and paper companies said it would stop using timber from Indonesia's natural forests and only use trees from plantations in a drive that an environmental group said may be a milestone if the company keeps its promise.
Tropical Indonesia is seen as an important country in the fight against climate change and is under international pressure to stop rampant deforestation and destruction of carbon-rich peatlands.
Jakarta-based Asia Pulp & Paper Group (APP), long accused by environmental groups of plundering Indonesia's rain forests, said it would not use any timber from suppliers that has been cut in natural forest concessions, nor would it cut timber from its own such concessions, under measures it adopted on February 1.
"Only plantation forest," Aida Greenbury, managing director of sustainability at APP, told Reuters on Tuesday.
An independent company and member of Indonesia's Sinar Mas brand, APP is a major supplier of paper, pulp and packaging in Asia but been it has been regularly criticised over the years for its clearing of forests.
The Rainforest Action Network (RAN) recently urged HarperCollins, a division of News Corp, not to do business with APP after tests showed that some children's books were printed with rainforest fibre.
Teguh Ganda Wijaya, chairman of the APP Group, said in a statement the company was changing its ways in the interests of sustainability.
"This is a major commitment and investment from APP Group," Wijaya said. "We are doing this for the sustainability of our business and for the benefit of society."
Green groups welcomed the APP's plans but were cautious.
"Though we welcome APP's new rainforest commitments as a milestone, the hidden story here is the controversial paper giant's long history of broken promises, land conflicts and human rights violations," Lafcadio Cortesi, Asia director for RAN, said in a statement.
"APP will not be seen as a responsible company in the marketplace until its new commitments are implemented and resolve the devastating rainforest and human rights crises it has caused in Indonesia."
PRESSURE FROM PALM OIL
Forests in the archipelago are also being cut for an expanding palm oil industry, which green groups blame for speeding up climate change and destroying wildlife.
Palm oil giant Sinar Mas Agro Resources & Technology, or SMART also operates under the Sinar Mas brand, and was accused by Greenpeace in 2010 of bulldozing high conservation-value forests and damaging peatlands.
SMART's parent firm, Golden Agri Resources, then agreed to adopt green policies in collaboration with the Forest Trust, a group that promotes green business. SMART has since won back customers like Nestle and Unilever.
Faced with international concern over its disappearing forests, Indonesia's president signed a two-year forest moratorium in May 2011, although critics say breaches still occur.
But companies were allowed to continue cutting in concessions awarded before the moratorium was announced.
Last year, Greenpeace said it had evidence that Barbie doll packaging came from Indonesian rainforests, accusing toy manufacturers such as Mattel Inc and Walt Disney of contributing to deforestation.
APP is also linking up with the Forest Trust which said the company's commitment could be a "watershed in the fight against deforestation".
(Additional rpeorting by Alister Doyle in Oslo; Editing by Robert Birsel)