By Harald Eraker
On 16 November last year, a few months after NorWatch first published the criticism which has been voiced against the Lorentzen-company Aracruz Celulose by Indians and environmental organisations in Brazil, the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten interviewed chairman of the company, Erling Lorentzen, and Minister of Environment, Torbjørn Berntsen.
Under the headline "The King's brother-in-law and the Minister of Environment stick together: Defend disputed factory in Brazil", they both reject the criticism, referring to the report "Towards a Sustainable Paper Cycle" written by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and commissioned by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD).
In the Aftenposten-article, Lorentzen says that "A new report (the IIED-report) shows that our paper industry in Brazil is better than its reputation", and that "We have facts to prove that Aracruz protects the land areas".
Torbjørn Berntsen continues, saying that "Lorentzen is right. The report which has been presented, shows that Lorentzen's estimates are correct".
But after having checked with the IIED in London, NorWatch can reveal that what the Minister of Environment and Lorentzen presented in Aftenposten was a gigantic bluff.
The report "Towards a Sustainable Paper Cycle" does not mention Aracruz with a single word.
- We have carried out a general assessment of the global paper industry, pointing out its strong and weak aspects. Our terms of reference were not at all to analyse individual companies. It is therefore wrong and taken out of context if Lorentzen or others cite our report in support of their companies, says Sarah Roberts of the IIED, who was a co-author of the report published in 1995.
When confronted with this, Erling Lorentzen says to NorWatch that Aftenposten has given the wrong impression in this case:
- This is the journalist's mistake. In all my presentations (of the IIED-report) I spoke on behalf of the WBCSD - World Business Council for Sustainable Development - where I sit in the Executive Committee, and not on behalf of Aracruz, Lorentzen says.
Aftenposten's journalist Reidun Samuelsen strongly denies this.
- I interviewed the Minister of Environment and Lorentzen, both separately and together, and there was never any doubt that we were talking about Aracruz, says Samuelsen, who points out that Aftenposten received no complaint from them that they had been wrongly quoted.
In spite of repeated efforts, NorWatch has not been able to get any comments from the Minister of Environment nor the Ministry in this case.
"I have been to Brazil myself and seen that this is a splendid industrial area."
Minister of Environment Berntsen comments on Aracruz, Aftenposten 16.11.96
As a matter of fact, Erling Lorentzen himself, after the Rio conference in 1992, got the idea that the WBCSG should carry out an independent study of the paper industry from the sustainable development point of view. The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) got the assignment.
- The IIED was chosen to carry out the study because they have a reputation as a completely independent and credible research institution, Erling Lorentzen explains to NorWatch.
He informs that the study cost over 17 million kroner, and that it took the IIED more than two years to finish it. During the entire process, The IIED received "eager support from an advisory group from the industry, lead by Erling Lorentzen from Aracruz Celulose", according to the annual report of the WBCSC of 1996.
But Lorentzen was not only the initiator and prime mover of the project. According to himself, Aracruz and Norsul International, another Lorentzen-company in Brazil, supported the IIED-study financially with more than 800,000 kroner in total.
- It was the first time in our 25-year history that we allowed the business community to sponsor one of our studies, and we had a lot of internal discussion before we entered the agreement. To ensure our independence, a section of the agreement said that we could publish the report if our employer WBCSC refused to do so, says Sarah Roberts in the IIED.
Kværner Pulping, Norske Skog, and the Norwegian government were among the other Norwegian contributors. The government supported the study with 250,000 kroner.
"Our terms of reference were not at all to analyse individual companies. It is therefore wrong and taken out of context if Lorentzen or others cite our report in support of their companies."
Sarah Roberts from IIED on the report "Towards a Sustainable Paper Cycle"
The rather dubious use of the IIED-report as a witness of truth to Aracruz, is followed by statements which show poor knowledge of the problems related to the company.
In the Aftenposten-interview, Minister of Environment Torbjørn Berntsen is asked whether it is not an environmental problem that Aracruz has planted eucalyptus in large areas which used to be covered by other vegetation. The Minister is absolutely certain when he replies:
"Yes, one should be careful with these things. But it is not true that this industrial undertaking has ruined the balance in the areas and damaged the ground water. I have been to Brazil myself and seen that this is a splendid industrial area."
The Tupinikim and Guarani Indians, who demand their traditional areas of land returned from Aracruz, tell about forced resettlement, felling of virgin forest, the drying up of rivers and brooks, and other environmental problems in the wake of the expansion of the Lorentzen-company that has taken place since 1967.
The Minister of Environment boasts that Aracruz takes good care of its workers. But the largest trade union at Aracruz, SINTICEL, is engaged in a bitter conflict with the Aracruz management concerning trade union rights, issues which also worry the LO (The Norwegian Federation of Trade Unions).
That Lorentzen takes interest in embellishing his own company, is not surprising. But it seems odd that the Minister of Environment Torbjørn Berntsen is so eager in his defence of Aracruz.
Norwatch Newsletter 11/97