Uni Loo Rolls Linked To Deforestation, Human Rights Abuses

Uni Loo Rolls Linked To Deforestation, Human Rights Abuses

Your flat’s toilet paper probably is too

Otago Uni is buying toilet paper from a company linked to deforestation and human rights abuses, particularly in Indonesia. This company has been blacklisted by tens of environmental groups worldwide, including Greenpeace and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). Your flat will probably have a few rolls made by them too.

If you’ve ever been stuck without reception in the campus toilets and find yourself reading random bits of text around the toilet stall, you may
notice a name keeps popping up: Livi. The brand appears on dispensers for toilet paper, paper towels and hand soap. Livi is owned by Cottonsoft Limited, who oversee a loo roll empire stretching from budget brands to Paseo (the stuff you get at your rich aunt’s place which feels like a silk handkerchief on your bum).

Fewer people may know that Cottonsoft itself is owned by Indonesian conglomerate Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), which has been linked over decades to scandals ranging from forest destruction to often-bloody conflicts with local and indigenous communities.

In 2011-12, Cottonsoft were called out by Greenpeace after they found their APP-sourced products contained wood fibre from Sumatran rainforests, with the scandal causing Countdown and The Warehouse to stop ordering from them. In 2013, APP made a “zero deforestation pledge” and even collaborated with Greenpeace for a few years. In 2018, though, Greenpeace cut ties with the company after they “failed to provide a credible response or take further action” to new allegations of deforestation.

Since then, Greenpeace has been blunt on
their stance. “We would recommend not to buy Cottonsoft/APP products at this time, until they reform and can demonstrate they are back
on track with their commitments,” says Grant Rosoman, Greenpeace International’s Forests Campaign senior advisor.

It’s not just one lone NGO raising these concerns, either. WWF released a similar statement in 2018, “strongly recommending that companies and financial investors end their business relationships with APP and its affiliates.” In

2018, the (badass-sounding) Anti-Forest Mafia Coalition, who are a group of Indonesian NGOs, revealed that APP’s suppliers had cleared nearly 320 square kilometres of rainforest. As far back

as 2007, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) refused to certify their products as sustainable, citing “substantial, publicly available information that APP was involved in destructive forestry practices”. That’s why no Cottonsoft product has the FSC logo, although it is certified by another group, the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC).

Kim Calvert, Cottonsoft’s Country Manager,
sent Critic Te Arohi a detailed response to these allegations. Calvert says all suppliers of wood fibre (mainly Indonesian) are “legal and certified sustainable under PEFC,” with plantations, pulp mills and other factories all regularly inspected and audited under PEFC and Environmental Choice NZ (ECNZ) programmes. Calvert added that a full list of APP suppliers and environmental reporting can be found on their Sustainability Dashboard website.

Calvert also attached a statement by APP’s Chief Sustainability Officer, Elim Sritaba, from July 2020. Since 2013, Sritaba says that APP have maintained “100% fibre supply from sustainably managed plantations”. Sritaba said they monitor forest cover around their plantations by satellite and have made efforts to regenerate and conserve native forest, as well as investing significantly in fire prevention. In addition, she said they “continue to maintain a constructive dialogue with the FSC.”

However, environmental scandals are not the only kind to dog APP. Just last year, Bongku, a member of the Sakai indigenous community, was jailed for trying to set up a sweet potato farm.
He cleared plantation trees on land which was traditionally communally-managed by the Sakai. APP responded that the land, now used for their commercial forestry, “had never been occupied or managed by the Sakai community,” and that they had followed all legal processes in getting Government designation to use the land.

That same year, villagers in Lubuk Mandarsah, whose village borders another APP plantation, claimed the company used a drone to spray their crops with pesticides, while sending security staff door-to-door to tell farmers to give up their land. At least one murder has been directly linked to APP’s security guards.

Sritaba said that “APP continues to work on the resolution of such disputes,” communicating their progress annually. Regional working groups have been formed to speed up the resolution, and “as of the end of 2019, APP and its suppliers have resolved 51% of the mapped land disputes across its suppliers’ concession areas.” She added that: “There is no foolproof system. We have encountered lapses in the past and will likely make mistakes in the future, but our willingness to close loopholes and stick to our commitments is clear.”

Otago Uni’s Chief Operating Officer Stephen Willis told Critic Te Arohi that sustainability issues were raised when the Uni began using Livi products
in 2017. “At that time, the company assured the University of its compliance regarding forestry stewardship and sustainable practices, pointing out it is both PEFC and ECNZ certified. The University was told the 1,000-sheet toilet tissue it uses is made in Cottonsoft’s Dunedin factory ... which added weight to our decision.” This factory is a converting plant, which takes bulk “jumbo reels” of imported paper and cuts and packages them into smaller rolls.

Willis added that the Uni “will be seeking further clarification from Livi. The University is currently in tender rounds for cleaning and stores provisions and will be taking this into consideration.”

If you thought the lockdown shits at your flat could help you sidestep these ethical concerns, think again. Cottonsoft also supply Value (Foodstuffs), Necessities (Countdown) and Essentials (The Warehouse), so unless you’re into the expensive stuff, you’re unlikely to be able to steer away from them. However, spokespeople from both Foodstuffs and Countdown told Critic Te Arohi they were confident that their toilet paper was responsibly sourced, citing its PEFC certification. The Warehouse did not respond to our request for comment.

So what is a cash-strapped student to do? Grant recommends brands which are made from post-consumer recycled paper, such as Earthcare (although competitor EarthSmart is also a Cottonsoft brand). Next best are brands made from FSC-certified NZ plantation forests, like Purex.

Alternatively, given the number of people who have said Critic Te Arohi is “no better than arse-wipe,” this magazine could be a good, locally-made and sustainable option too.

This article first appeared in Issue 21, 2021.
Posted 1:50pm Sunday 5th September 2021 by Denzel Chung.