Activists’ campaign targets plant’s products

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Print this page by James Heffernan

Mercury Paper Co. in Strasburg has been swept up in a Greenpeace campaign that has prompted Kroger and other retailers to stop stocking its products.

Greenpeace accuses Singapore-based Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), a division of the Chinese conglomerate Sinar Mas, of destroying rain forests in Southeast Asia and threatening natives species like the Sumatran tiger and orangutan. Last fall, the environmental group launched a campaign urging U.S. grocery chains and big-box stores to boycott APP-sourced products until the company changes its business practices.

Mercury Paper, part of Sinar Mas’ rapidly growing North America sales network, expanded its manufacturing-distribution center near the Interstates 81-66 interchange in Shenandoah County in 2010 and relocated its corporate headquarters to the site. The $21 million facility, which employs about 150 people, receives raw materials from APP via the nearby Virginia Inland Port and turns them into toilet paper and tissue products sold under the Paseo brand.

Mercury Paper says it follows strict policies to ensure that its suppliers, from forests to paper mills, are legally sustainable. But Rolf Skar, senior forest campaigner with Greenpeace, says APP’s record of environmental abuses is well documented.

Greenpeace’s efforts have succeeded in persuading some companies to suspend contracts with APP. In December, Kroger, the nation’s largest grocery chain, joined Food Lion’s parent company in refusing to stock Paseo products. Other companies, including Hasbro, Nestlé and Staples, have removed Sinar Mas from their supply chains.

Virginia politicians, including Gov. Bob McDonnell,  Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling and U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, whose 6th District includes Shenandoah County, have come to Mercury Paper’s defense. In a letter to Kroger CEO David Dillon, McDonnell said, “Mercury Paper is an important part of Virginia’s economic recovery, and Kroger’s decision will harm this business.”
The Mercury Paper fight has caught the attention of business groups in Virginia, including the upstart Coalition to Protect Virginia Jobs — a joint venture of the state chapter of Americans for Prosperity and the Virginia Federation of Tea Party Patriots — and the Virginia Chamber of Commerce. Both groups say Greenpeace’s allegations amount to a smear campaign and could hurt employment in the northern Shenandoah Valley.

Skar says ultimately Greenpeace wants “to effect change on the ground in Indonesia.” He holds up APP’s sister company, Golden Agri-Resources, a palm oil producer that was the target of a similar Greenpeace campaign, as an example of corporate reform. “A lot of groups in Virginia are using this campaign to bash Greenpeace,” he says. “We’re not picking on (APP). We’re running an anti-deforestation campaign. The minute they solve the problem, we’ll lay down our swords and work with them like we did with their sister company.”

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