Still in the market for change

In 1999 I had a life changing experience. I met the chief buyer for UK supermarket chain Sainsbury’s.

The company had made the awful mistake of proudly advertising that they had put fish genes into their home brand canned tomatoes.

The consumer backlash was extraordinary. Their customer feedback line melted down under thousands of calls. Within days the company announced that it would go totally GE free, no genetically engineered material whatsoever would be stocked. They set up an analytical unit to check whether suppliers were telling the truth about the contents of their product.

The power of the market to make change was clear. People care about the environmental and social impacts of what they buy and smart businesses respond. Suppliers must change with the times to meet market demand.

So to this momentous week in Tasmania. On Monday I took up the position of CEO with Markets For Change. On Thursday a forests agreement had been reached and enabling legislation was being rushed into Parliament.

We now face important and inevitable questions over where we stand and what we will do. To answer this, it is important to take the time to read and fully understand the deal as we have had no involvement in it. Then we will consider the origins and attributes of the products that will now end up in the markets. Our decision on this must be responsible, not rushed.

We do want Tasmania to move on.

Our perspective differs from that of many in Tasmania who focus on supply side issues whereas we campaign to address the demand side. Retailers can play a role in driving forest destruction, but equally they can be part of the solution. We talk with them about this.

Day one on the lawns of Parliament House saw more inflated claims than you’d find at a second hand car dealers conference. How much is resolution of deep-seated issues and how much is rhetoric? What will we recommend?

The short answer is that it is too early to know what Tasmania will end up with. We need to see what makes it through the Legislative Council for a start, because the fear is that they will water down the conservation gains or throw the whole thing out and leave us all in the trenches.

Next is the issue of the proposed reserves. When will logging stop in these precious places? It has continued inside the area all the time the talks were underway, prompting protests on the ground and our successful markets pressure in Japan and the UK.

There is no deadline to stop logging the agreed reserves. It remains business as usual. A labyrinthine process decrees that a Signatory Council be set up once the forest agreement legislation is finally enacted, a Durability Report then be produced by that council, and after that a Protection Order be put in place. A lengthy bureaucratic process will take months more to formalise reserves.

But the Protection Order and an accompanying Conservation Agreement will not stop all logging of the proposed reserves. We are in the hands of Forestry Tasmania. The agreement explicitly provides for ongoing logging of designated reserves so as not to inconvenience industry. The rogue agency that has exacerbated conflict by scheduling operations into the most contentious of places may continue to play this game.

Ta Ann’s peeler wood contracts are supposed to be renegotiated in the light of the agreement. This is a great opportunity for them to insist that they not be supplied with contentious wood. We hope they will.

The reason we appealed to customer companies overseas is that Ta Ann had been advertising plantation grown ‘eco’ wood when in fact it had originated from logging contentious native forests. Official reports on the scheduling of logging inside the moratorium area identified Ta Ann’s wood supply requirements as the driver.

These overseas companies await news that they are no longer being presented dead high conservation value forests. So, when will this logging stop? Will Ta Ann insist that it be immediate? If so, will Forestry Tasmania be compelled to oblige?

Only 395,000 hectares of the proposed reserves seems real. The Liberals won’t enact more reserves if they win government, which is likely, yet the agreement supposes that in 2015 an extra 108,000 hectares will be protected. Really?

How logging is conducted in the remaining native forests is a core issue for markets. The deal provides that instead of retiring the quota obtained from the sawlog buyback, the vast bulk is to be sold back into the system. This would unleash an intensification of logging.

A biodiversity upgrade to the Forest Practices Code has been sitting with the Minister for a couple of years and now is the opportunity to apply it to try for world’s best practice. Unbelievably, the agreement foreshadows a watering down of the code instead. That would look very bad to environmentally sensitive markets, if the government was silly enough to take that course.

Written by Peg Putt – published in The Mercury – 24/11/12

By TaAnn

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