Greenpeace versus Mattel: A social media battle over rain forest

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The battle between Mattel, the world’s biggest toy company, and Greenpeace, one of the world’s largest environmental groups, moved into a social media combat phase Wednesday as more than 180,000 people viewed a spoof video of Ken breaking up with Barbie over rain forest destruction. The video, featured on various nations’ Greenpeace sites as well as on YouTube, was translated into 18 languages.

The video was part of a sophisticated global campaign mounted against the El Segundo company for allegedly using packaging derived from Indonesian rain forests to wrap its Barbie and Ken dolls and other toys.


Greenpeace, which has 2.8 million members and offices in 41 countries, is counting on social media to carry its message. Its website enables visitors to send a letter to Mattel’s CEO and share campaign information on Twitter and Facebook with a few clicks of a mouse.

When activists Tuesday began posting critical messages on Barbie’s Facebook fan page, which has 2.2 million followers, Mattel shut down commenting on the page and deleted any mention of rain forests. No new comments since Monday were visible on the page as of late Wednesday.

On Twitter, as Greenpeace protesters were unfurling a giant banner from the roof of Mattel headquarters, the company tweeted from @BarbieStyle (53,400 followers): “After a 7-year break, I really need to update summer pictures of me and Ken! Collecting seashells on the beach to decorate a picture frame.” Since then: radio silence on a feed that normally features ten or more tweets a day.

Meanwhile, anyone searching for @barbie on Twitter would see such tweets as this one: “Yes, I participated in else am I supposed to heat the ‘Dream House’? #Barbie.”

The @Barbie site is not company-sponsored and had only 1,412 followers as of midday Wednesday. Presumably, it was set up by a fan, or by a spoofer, since posts before the Greenpeace protest were along the lines of: “Every man I date seems to think I’m impressed by fake jewelry.”

James Turner, a Greenpeace spokesman, expressed amazement that the company does not control the @barbie site “considering the power and wealth of Mattel.” He said Greenpeace had not coordinated with the site. “Someone nabbed that name — we don’t know who.” However, one spoof site was set up by Greenpeace itself: @ken_talks. Its first tweet was June 1: ‘Beach. Spa. Poolside cocktails. Just another Malibu weekend coming my way boys and dolls!”


By Tuesday it was tweeting: “Did you know there are only about 400 Sumatran tigers left in the wild? Feel a bit sick.”

Indonesian rain forests, which have been decimated for palm oil plantations and pulp and paper operations, are a haven for endangered species including orangutans, tigers, elephants and leopards. The clearing and burning of rain forests worldwide is responsible for an estimated 15% of global emissions of carbon dioxide, which is trapping heat in earth’s atmosphere and causing changes in the climate.

Mattel is the latest target of a decade-long effort by such environmental groups as Greenpeace and Rainforest Action Network to persuade multi-nationals to purge their supply chains of any links to forest destruction.

Mattel issued a statement Tuesday, saying, “Playing responsibly has long been an important part of Mattel’s business practices,’ and criticizing Greenpeace’s ‘inflammatory approach.’

[UPDATE: Weds June 8, 9:10 p.m. Late Wednesday evening, Mattel responded more directly to Greenpeace’s charge that its packaging includes wood products from Asia Pulp & Paper, a subsidiary of the giant Singapore-based conglomerate Sinar Mas. In a post to its corporate facebook page, it said: ‘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.

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.’]


But Turner said that the environmentalists’ campaign will continue until Mattel shows ‘due diligence’ towards a ‘zero-deforestation’ policy. Greenpeace’s China office will shortly send out an email to several million followers, he said.

Early Wednesday, activists hung a giant banner of a frowning Ken doll in London’s Piccadilly Circus reading “Barbie, you’re dumped: Girls that threaten furry animals make me sick.” The message was a play on Mattel’s marketing campaign, which has Ken reuniting with Barbie after a breakup.


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Photos, from top: An aerial view of the Indonesian island of Sumatra in 2010 shows the logging concession site of PT. Tebo Multi Agro, affiliated with Asia Pulp and Paper (APP). A June 2011 Greenpeace report, ‘How APP is toying with extinction,’ accuses Mattel Inc. of using packaging from rain forest wood logged by APP. Credit: Romeo Gacadi/AFP/Getty Images

Five Greenpeace climbers evaded security to scale a building in central London early Wednesday and unveil a banner, with a picture of Mattel’s Ken doll reading: ‘Barbie, you’re dumped. Girls That Threaten Furry Animals Make Me Sick.’ The guerrilla tactic was part of a campaign charging Mattel with packaging toys using pulp from the rain forests of Indonesia, home to the Sumatran tiger and other endangered species. Credit: John Cobb/Greenpeace