Greenpeace campaign targets Mattel
Activists rappelled down the face of the 15-story El Segundo headquarters of Mattel, the world’s largest toy company, on Tuesday and hung a giant banner of a frowning Ken doll look-alike with the message: “Barbie, it's over. I don’t date girls that are into deforestation.” The protest marked the launch of a global campaign by Greenpeace against Mattel in connection with paper packaging allegedly derived from Indonesian rain forests.
El Segundo police arrested eight protesters, including a woman dressed as Barbie in pink and blue Spandex, who was driving a bright pink bulldozer half a block from the scene. Fire trucks descended on the area, as it was cordoned off, and Mattel employees crowded around the windows, taking photos with cellphones.
The theatrics were only window dressing for what promised to be an all-out assault on one of the nation’s iconic brands as it geared up for a sales campaign centered on a reunion between its Barbie and Ken dolls.
“Barbie’s dirty secret is that her packaging is made from the rain forests of Indonesia,” said Rolf Skar, senior forest campaigner for Greenpeace USA. “Mattel has shown no due diligence. It buys paper without asking where it’s coming from.”
In recent years, Greenpeace, with 2.8 million members and offices in 41 countries, has waged successful campaigns against multinational corporations such as McDonald’s, Kimberly Clark, McDonald’s, Nestle, Unilever and Burger King concerning links to deforestation in their supply chains.
On Tuesday, the company issued a statement saying, “Playing responsibly has long been an important part of Mattel’s business practices. … We have been in communication with Greenpeace on a variety of papersourcing issues. We are surprised and disappointed that they have taken this inflammatory approach. … We will continue to assess our paper sourcing and packaging improvements as we move forward.”
Indonesia’s rain forest, the third largest in the world after the Amazon and the Congo, is home to orangutans, tigers, elephants, clouded leopards and scores of other endangered plants and animals. In the last half-century, about 40% of the country’s forests have been cleared, mainly for palm oil plantations and pulp and paper operations. Despite a partial moratorium announced last month, Indonesian government plans suggest, by some accounts, that nearly half of the remaining natural forest could be cut in the next two decades.
Apart from their unparalleled biodiversity, rain forests store a vast amount of carbon in their trees, leaves and soil, which is released into the atmosphere when the forest is cleared or burned. Experts say that Indonesia’s deforestation has made it the world’s third-largest source of man-made greenhouse gases, after the U.S. and China, and thus a major contributor to global climate change.
The ultimate target of the Greenpeace campaign is not Mattel, with $5.9 billion in annual sales, but a supplier to Mattel’s Chinese packaging printers: Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), one of the world’s largest producers of wood products, which has leveled vast swaths of rain forest over the last two decades.
Greenpeace hopes that by shaming APP customers into cancelling contracts, the Singapore-based company will renounce its claim to millions of acres of Indonesian forest.
“Corporate brands are silent partners to forest crime,” the environmental group asserted last year in a report titled “Pulping the Planet.” Staples and Office Depot stopped buying paper from APP, the report noted, and it called on other APP customers to “introduce a zero-deforestation policy” along their supply chains.
Implicit was the threat that if companies don’t rework their operations, their brands could face the sort of tactics launched last year against Nestle’s Kit Kat candy bar.
During that campaign, a Greenpeace video showed an office worker opening a Kit Kat, and spewing blood as he bit on an orangutan finger. The video garnered 1 million Internet views worldwide in two weeks. Nestle critics inundated the company with phone calls and letters, and posted tens of thousands of angry messages on its Facebook fan page. The strategy worked: The world’s largest food-and-drink company announced that it would no longer source palm oil from Golden Agri-Resources (GAR), APP’s sister company, and would ensure its suppliers were not contributing to deforestation.
The campaign against Mattel also features a video (above) in which an animated Ken doll is spattered with blood as he watches footage of Barbie slaughtering orangutans and tigers at “a shoot in some rainforest.” As Ken preens in his pastel mansion, a narrator asks: “Did you ever think of Barbie as a serial killer?”
In February, after several years of pressure from customers, GAR announced that it would stop clearing new rain forests for palm oil and instead focus on improving supplies from existing plantations. APP officials say the company is on its way to sourcing all of its pulp from renewable plantations in the next five years. Environmental groups say the company has repeatedly violated promises of sustainability.
[Update:Weds. June 8; 10:46: In a statement, Aida Greenbury, Managing Director, Asia Pulp & Paper, said. “Despite Greenpeace’s unsubstantiated allegations, the facts are that our packaging materials contain more than 95% of recycled paper sourced from around the world... We are happy to share the scientific analysis of our packaging materials with anyone who wants to review it. “]
In turning its attention to the pulp-and-paper industry, Greenpeace chose the toy sector as its target “because children value wildlife and animals,” Skar said. “What sort of story does that tell when the Sumatran tiger is on the brink of extinction and Mattel is looking the other way?”
According to a Greenpeace report released Tuesday, “How APP Is Toying With Extinction," forensic tests performed for the group by IPS, a leading independent laboratory, show that packaging for Barbie dolls, as well as for toys sold by Disney, Hasbro and LEGO, contains Indonesian mixed tropical hardwood (MTH), a rain-forest-derived product. Only APP and one other company produce MTH pulp. Packaging can also be made from acacia and eucalyptus plantations after rain forests are cleared, but forensic tests distinguish the difference.
Greenpeace’s investigation uncovered certification documents, licensing agreements, contracts and trade data linking printers for the toy companies to APP pulp mills. Two APP mills on the island of Sumatra supplied printers making Mattel packaging in Indonesia and China, where the company manufactures many of its toys, including some sold under Disney’s label.
But Greenpeace is focusing its campaign on Mattel, rather than on the toy industry as a whole, “because it is the biggest and most influential company,” Skar said.
“Mattel is very active in online marketing,” he added, noting that Barbie has her own Facebook page, with 2.2 million followers. “That is where we hope to be as well.”
-- Margot Roosevelt
Photo: Top: Two Greenpeace activists rappel down the Mattel building in El Segundo after unfurling a banner denouncing deforestation. Middle: Environmental activist Elise Nabor in a Barbie outfit, driving her "Barbiedozer" is stopped by an El Segundo police officer a half block away from the Mattel building in El Segundo.Bottom: Greenpeace activist Jared Cobb dangles past a cutout of Barbie after nearly three hours of helping to unfurl the banner. He was later arrested. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times