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Mattel to investigate suppliers for links to rain forest destruction

GP Taiwan Barbie
Mattel Inc., the world’s biggest toy company, said it would direct its suppliers to stop buying wood pulp from Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), an Indonesian-Chinese company that has clear-cut vast swaths of Indonesia’s rain forest.

As a global Greenpeace campaign against Mattel gained traction, the El Segundo-based company posted a statement on its Facebook page late Wednesday saying, “Mattel does not support deforestation nor does it contract directly with Sinar Mas/APP. We purchase packaging materials from a variety of suppliers and it is not the normal course of business to dictate where suppliers source materials.”

However, in an effort to contain any damage from the assault on its popular Barbie and Ken doll brands, the company added, “That said, we have directed our packaging suppliers to stop sourcing pulp from Sinar Mas/APP as we investigate the deforestation allegations. Additionally, we have asked our packaging suppliers to clarify how they are addressing the broader issue in their own supply chains.”

APP is a subsidiary of Singapore-based Sinar Mas, a conglomerate of more than 100 companies controlled by the Indonesian-Chinese family of Eka Tjipta Widjaja, a politically connected billionaire.

Greenpeace, one of the world’s biggest environmental groups, launched a broad campaign against Mattel on Tuesday, hanging massive banners at the company’s California headquarters and in London’s Picadilly Circus. It posted spoof videos in 18 languages on YouTube, in which an animated Ken doll watches Barbie slaughtering tigers and orangutans, as a narrator asks, “Did you ever think of Barbie as a serial killer?”

As of Thursday morning, the videos had garnered more than 510,000 views, including more than 150,000 for the Spanish language version.

On Tuesday, as the protest at its headquarters was underway, Mattel cut off all commenting on Barbie’s Facebook page but allowed critics to post on its corporate Facebook page. “We are allowing for dialogue in comments and on the Mattel wall,” spokeswoman Jules Andres said in an email. “We delete posts that have profanity or inappropriate content.”

Mattel may have learned from what was considered a public relations fiasco for Nestle, the world’s largest food and drink company. Greenpeace launched a campaign last year against Nestle’s Kit Kat candy bar brand for using palm oil from Indonesian deforested land. When Nestle demanded that YouTube remove Greenpeace’s Kit Kat video, and tried to suppress comments, the campaign gained even more widespread attention.

Greenpeace Thursday rejected Mattel’s olive branch. "It's good that Mattel has realized it has a major deforestation problem, but it's still missing a comprehensive policy to deal with this issue,” said Rolf Skar, the group’s senior forest campaigner. "The world’s biggest toy company seems to be saying it isn’t to blame for the actions of its suppliers.”

Skar added that “Mattel should take responsibility for the environmental impact of its products by removing APP and Sinar Mas from its supply chain, as well as giving clear timelines about when this will happen.

"The company should also make a public commitment to remove deforestation from all its products so this can’t happen again. For now our campaign continues -- Barbie and Ken are still spending time apart."

Meanwhile, Ian Lifshitz, a sustainability manager for APP's American operations, issued a statement saying, "We very much applaud Mattel for not succumbing to pressure from environmental groups like Greenpeace, but instead choosing to conduct their own investigation into these baseless allegations."  

He added, "We are confident Mattel’s investigation will show that our packaging materials are more than 95 percent recycled paper sourced from around the world."

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.

The Indonesian government last month announced a partial two-year moratorium on clearing forest, but environmentalists say it will allow large new areas to be cleared.

Tropical deforestation is known to be a major contributor to climate change. A vast amount of carbon is stored in rain forest trunks, leaves and soil, and it is released into the atmosphere when the forest is cleared or burned. Deforestation has made Indonesia the world's third-largest source of man-made greenhouse gases, after the U.S. and China.

RELATED:

Social media spoofs gain traction in Mattel rainforest fight

Greenpeace targets toy industry in global rainforest campaign

Proposed law threatens to cripple Amazon forest protection

--Margot Roosevelt

Photo: A screen grab of the Taiwanese website of Greenpeace's campaign against Mattel Inc., the world's biggest toy company, for packaging its Barbie dolls in paper allegedly derived from Indonesian rain forest pulp. The spoof video, in which Ken breaks up with Barbie over deforestation, is translated into 18 languages and has garnered more than half a million views in two days.

 
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