Pulping the People

Pulp and Paper Production in Indonesia and the Role
of International Export Credit Agencies

45 min. 2001 30 min. DVD / VHS german / english / indonesian
We take a look at the devastating effects the commercial demands of the West can have on the environments of poorer countries. This documentary examines the problem from an Indonesian perspective, where our mass consumption of cheap white paper is creating environmental despair for the country.
Spots, pimples, scabs, rashes and lesions - that’s the price Indonesians, especially children, pay for our photocopying paper. Their rivers are polluted with chlorine compounds dumped by huge pulp and paper factories. These factories produce the cheapest pure white pulp mats in the world - the raw material for cheap paper.
Ten years of paper pulp production has changed the Indonesian ecosystem forever. Smoke belches into the blue skies of Sumatra, and the rivers run brown. Once proud rainforests have become logged graveyards, never to recover. Noisy protest falls on deaf ears, both in Indonesia and Europe.
Illegal waste from the chlorine bleaching process is dumped into the Siak and Kampar rivers. Locals say it happens at night, and the stench fills the air. Their water contains a staggering 80 times the European permitted level of toxic waste, and the only cure for the maddening skin irritations is to buy bottled water for washing. Many factories don’t want to invest in modern technology to clean up their act, and other factories don’t bother to use the technology they have.
In the primitive stilt villages of Sumatra, accessible only by boat, water is life-giving, for washing and drinking. But the once-teeming fish in these tropical waters now float belly-up. The Indah Kiat factory finally admitted the truth and installed a drinking water pump in the village. But thanks to groundwater pollution, even this water stinks.
Two major paper companies, APP and RAPP, have received credits of billions of US dollars from Europe and the US. Both companies still depend on wood coming from natural forest, much of it cut illegally. In Indonesia, laws protecting rainforests are worthless, fines have no impact, and ancient trees continue to come down. Environmental activist Fery Irawan says, “We have noticed that they are increasingly logging in the national parks. But the pulp factories don’t do it themselves; they encourage others to do it for them. People do it out of desperation. So the factories get the wood in a way that nobody can prove that they are responsible for the illegal logging.” So market forces have forced fishermen to abandon their rods for the chainsaw. The traditional Kubu hunt has become a farce. They teach the young hunting skills, but there are just no animals left in the denuded forest.
Many Generals and even members of the Suharto family have part-ownership in the pulp factories. Soldiers watch over demonstrations, and now guard some factories. Villagers complain plantation companies have set fire to their forests and taken their land. “When we protested and tried to overthrow the containers on the building site, they sent in the military”.
International governments guarantee the paper companies’ investments. Lorenz Schomerus checked German credit export guarantees. For him indigenous suffering is immaterial. “It cannot be right that the economic development of a country that desperately needs jobs and income is held up, only because a project causes certain hardships that must be tolerated.”
Through rising environmental awareness in Europe the sales of the Indonesian pulp producers decrease. The Finnish government has refused to guarantee any more loans for pulp factories until practises improve. Our tap water in Europe is cleaner than ever, but Indonesians’ misery won’t stop until the western world demands chlorine-free paper… By award-winning filmmakers Inge Altemeier and Reinhard Hornung