Under attack by greenpeace for turning vast tracts of Canada's pristine boreal forest into Kleenex and toilet paper, the Kimberly-Clark Corporation is facing a new threat to its supplies from an angry First Nation community north of Lake Superior.
Last week, Aroland First Nation, located north of Geraldton, threatened to prevent logging throughout the Kenogami region, the province's largest forest management unit, covering 20,000 square kilometres in the centre of northern Ontario.
The region, containing some of the southernmost remnant populations of threatened woodland caribou, feeds a large pulp mill in Terrace Bay, on Lake Superior, that was formerly owned by Kimberly-Clark and still supplies three-quarters of its output to the company.
The world's biggest maker of tissue products, Kimberly-Clark gets 22 per cent of its global supply of wood fibre, about 660,000 tonnes, from Canada's boreal forest, much of it from Terrace Bay and another mill in Alberta.
The Terrace Bay mill has been beset by a raft of problems in recent years. After becoming part of a separate company called Neenah Paper, Inc., spun off by Kimberly-Clark in 2004, the mill was shut down by a strike in February that is still ongoing. This summer the mill was sold to Buchanan Forest Products Ltd.
In August, the province also granted Buchanan the forest licence for Kenogami, charging it with managing the entire region. This move incensed the 500-member Aroland community, which has long felt left out of decision-making and the economic benefits derived from forestry on its traditional lands.
"The community is not against logging, but it wants to have a handle on where it's done, compensation for trappers and jobs for its members," says Paul Capon, political adviser to the Matawa Tribal Council, which represents Aroland and nine other First Nations communities in the area.
Aroland issued its blockade warning after a long-sought meeting with Ontario Natural Resources Minister David Ramsay, who's also responsible for aboriginal affairs, was abruptly cancelled and a senior bureaucrat substituted.
The Matawa Council, which is not part of the Greenpeace boycott, initially saw the transfer of ownership of the Terrace Bay mill as an opportunity, and asked to be included in negotiations between the companies and the province. On top of compensation, the council seeks jobs, training, contracts and financial support for its people to gain a fair share in forest monitoring, harvesting, tree planting and road building and maintenance.
"MNR's responsibility is to work with First Nations to recognize opportunities and benefits in the forest industry, and they are abysmal at doing that," says Capon, pointing to recent Supreme Court of Canada decisions favouring treaty rights in forestry. "The government is quite willing to give subsidies to other parts of the forest industry almost a billion dollars [recently] but none to First Nations."
MNR Nipigon district manager Ian Hagman responds that Buchanan was granted an interim licence on the condition that it would develop a new cooperative arrangement with First Nations, local municipalities, individual mills and other stakeholders.
However, initial discussions between the province and the Matawa Tribal Council over implementing this arrangement stalled this autum over thorny issues such as resource revenue sharing and compensation for past forestry operations on native lands, says Hagman.
Greenpeace puts the blame for Kenogami's past and present enviro, social and labour woes squarely on Kimberly-Clark, which built the mill and company town of Terrace Bay in 1948.
"They are accountable for what they've done in the past," says Greenpeace forests campaigner Christy Ferguson. "It's an example of a big company coming in and taking what it wants and leaving the community and the environment in a shambles."
In November, Greenpeace garnered publicity in Europe for its campaign to protect Canada's dwindling intact boreal with a banner-unfurling protest at Kimberly-Clark's Italian headquarters in Turin. It also recently added Rice University in Texas to the 750 institutions and mostly small companies it's persuaded to drop supply contracts with the tissue manufacturer.
The group has targeted Kimberly-Clark because the Dallas-based firm uses virgin material in many of its consumer products. It does use recycled material in products sold to institutions and businesses, and when this is factored in, 19 per cent of the company's overall North American output comes from recycled fibre. This compares with an average of 60 per cent for the industry as a whole, according to Greenpeace.
At Kimberly-Clark, corporate communications manager Joey Mooring says the company stands tall on strong environmental credentials. "We're taking a responsible approach to forest sustainability both in Canada and around the world,' he says.
Mooring says the content of the company's consumer products is determined by the market. Because tissue strength and softness decline with the amount of recycled fibre used, he says, "our consumers have voiced their preferences through their purchases."
Kimberly-Clark, adds Mooring, uses no wood from tropical rainforests or old-growth boreal stands designated as "ecologically significant." In fact, he says, the vast majority of the company's boreal forest fibre comes from woodchips left over from sawmills producing lumber.
Until it was closed by the strike earlier this year, however, the Terrace Bay mill derived almost half its wood directly from logs, according to the Kenogami Forest Management Plan. It's unclear if the mill will resume using whole logs for pulp if it returns to full capacity. Calls to Buchanan's head office in Thunder Bay were not returned.
Ferguson says tissues with high recycled content can succeed with consumers, pointing to Cascades, the continent's fourth-biggest tissue maker, which uses recycled materials for 97 per cent of its output. Greenpeace wants any remaining boreal wood used in paper products to come from stands certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, the most rigorous of all standards in promoting sustainability and input from First Nations and other local communities.