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APP brand gave PR agencies ‘get us out of the news’ brief after NTUC Fairprice product ban

Paseo stocked in NTUC Fairprice in September, pic: Paseo's Facebook page

Paseo stocked in NTUC Fairprice in September, pic: Paseo’s Facebook page

Asia Pulp & Paper floated a brief to PR agencies to get premium toilet tissue brand Paseo “out of the news” when its products were stripped from the shelves of a Singapore supermarket chain in October – but some agencies declined to answer the brief because of its complexity.

A number of PR firms were approached, including those on the paper firm’s global roster of public relations advisors, but the opportunity was passed up, Mumbrella understands.

The brief was too considered “too hard”, according to sources, with the Paseo brand and its parent company the focal point of a local public health issue and global environmental catastrophe that has many causes and stakeholders.

Paseo was removed from NTUC Fairprice shelves along with 17 other brands including Nice and Jolly early last month, as reported by media in Singapore and overseas, after the right of APP products to carry a green label was taken away by Singapore’s National Environment Agency.

The products were removed amid chronically bad quality – known as the haze – in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia as a result of land clearance and burning in Sumatra where APP operates as one of the world’s largest paper and pulp operations.

The Paseo brand is “one cog in a massive wheel that fundamentally needs all the cogs changing,” one agency boss said of the difficulty of brief. “There is no communication solution from one element of the industry that will drive the rest of the industry,” they said of the issue.

Asia Pulp & Paper’s managing director of sustainability Aida Greenbury responded to Mumbrella’s questions about the Paseo brief this morning by saying that the company’s PR activity in Singapore is led by Cohn & Wolfe and there is “currently no intention to engage other PR firms.”

“The underlying causes of the forest fires and the resulting haze are complex and our focus right now is to help suppress fires and prevent fires; as well as to continue engaging relevant stakeholders to understand these issues and more importantly, to find solutions for the region,” she wrote in an email.

Greenbury pointed to the APP’s recent communications, which include two stories on how the company is helping its suppliers put out fires in South Sumatra and has brought in international fire specialists to help stop the forest land burning. “We are doing this with the assistance of our PR and other advisory firms in Singapore and the region,” she said.

Meanwhile, Paseo, which operates as a separate consumer-facing brand to its parent, has stated in its communications in social and other media that it has a “zero deforestation” and “zero burning” policy.

Pop up message on paseo.com.sg

Pop up message on paseo.com.sg

The brand has installed a pop-up message that appears when visiting its Singapore website paseo.com.sg. The pop-up ‘Message to our consumers’, which also appears on the brand’s Facebook pagelinks to a PDF note, states that the brand is made from made from “100% virgin fibres sourced from responsibly managed plantations”.

The statement from Paseo, which begins by thanking customers for their support over the years, ends:

The unfortunate conditions of fires in Indonesia causing the haze that affects the health of Singaporeans and our neighbours in the region is a very big concern to PASEO as well and we take this issue very seriously. We have had a ‘Zero Burning’ policy in our supply chain since 1996, and a zero deforestation policy since 2013. We are also one of the very few organisations that has voluntarily published the full list of our suppliers, and provided their maps to the government and World Resources Institute In 2014. We have made this move as part of our commitment to be transparent, and we will continue to be during this fire situation.

APP pledged to stop clearing indigenous Indonesian rainforests in 2013 after years of pressure from green groups. Mumbrella interviewed Greenbury in Jakarta in January this year about the company’s approach to communications around its newly claimed green credentials.

“I don’t like to see it as a story – it’s a journey,” she said. “It’s about taking people along with us, and making them believe in our journey. Our policy is about blatant honesty and transparency – which no one else in the forestry industry is doing.”

Greenbury spoke to Channel NewsAsia two weeks after APP products were removed from Singapore supermarket shelves. She said the company “cannot operate in isolation” to halt deforestation.

Last week, Singapore MP Louis Ng pointed to local coverage of the APP product withdrawal as an example of how Singapore’s mainstream press was holding companies to account over their responsibility for the haze.

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