24.05.2015 |
Aida G.
Tragedy sparks new approach to community relations: a new beginning...

Yesterday morning, a mass prayer and traditional ceremony was held at the Lubuk Mandarsah village in Jambi Sumatra to mark the tragic death three months ago of a local community member Mr Indra Pelani. The ceremony was presided over by the customary organisation official of Tanjung Beringin hamlet, Lubuk Mandarsah village. It brought together local community members with representatives of Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) and its supplier Wira Karya Sakti (WKS) as well as members from Civil Society Organizations.

Caption: WKS representatives presented traditional offerings, symbolising a pure heart and a new beginning.

The day signified a new beginning to a relationship between WKS and the local community.  As part of the traditional ceremony, WKS presented the community with a set of the local’s traditional offerings, such as white shrouds as a symbol of pure heart and new beginnings. Reconciliatory words were exchanged, and the community’s aspirations for a better relationship between the company and community especially resounded in company leaders that were in attendance.

Caption: WKS Director of Operations reiterated the commitment to build a harmonious relationship with the community, and to continue with peaceful conflict resolution.

I sincerely believe that yesterday’s event will help signal a fresh new approach by APP and its suppliers to community relations.

As part of a series of measures to improve relationships, we have now established a social conflict resolution team to focus solely on this issue.

Mr Pelani’s death was a sad, shocking and sobering experience for us all at APP. We intend to learn everything possible from the issues highlighted by his death so such tragedies are not repeated.

Clearly, this must include immediate measures to act on the findings of the investigations that are currently well underway. This includes the independent investigation led by the Indonesian Human Rights Commission into human rights violations, as well as the police-led criminal investigation.

The work required is far broader than just solving problems on a case-by-case basis. Social conflict is an issue that is faced by all natural resource businesses globally, including businesses in Indonesia. Currently, there is no national strategy to deal with these challenging issues. I am not aware of any company in Indonesia that stands out as leading the way in addressing this challenge. At APP, we are determined to find genuine overarching solutions to social conflicts across our operations. We have made this a priority in our ‘Forest Conservation Policy (FCP) implementation plan for 2015 and beyond’. Getting it right will require vision, hard work and the expertise of others.

For this sea-change to happen, and happen quickly enough, we need action and support from across Indonesia. All stakeholders, including government and NGOs, need to commit their time and resources to help address this critical challenge and set a new standard for good practice with responsible and inclusive community relationships.

But the work does not finish there.

In order to benefit communities, forests, the wider country, economy and the global climate, we still have to meet the ambitious commitments within our FCP and landscape conservation pledge to support the protection and restoration of one million hectares of forest – equivalent to an area the size of our supply base.

A great deal of important progress has been made in recent months on peatland assessments, the development of Integrated Sustainable Forest Management Plans, and assessment of the importance of landscapes for tigers and other wildlife species. All of this could benefit greatly from the support of more expert stakeholders actively participating in the process and in the field.

I truly hope we can learn from the past to protect the future. It won’t happen unless we are willing to work together to make it a reality; a new beginning.

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