Mattel, under siege, promises new rain forest packaging policy


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Toy maker Mattel, under siege by environmental critics, announced Friday that it would develop a new policy to make its packaging suppliers “commit to sustainable forestry management practices.”

Greenpeace, which launched a global campaign against Mattel this week, called the announcement “encouraging” but added, “They’re not out of the woods yet. The document still needs to be written.’


The announcement was the latest effort by the world’s largest toy company to contain any damage to its popular Barbie and Ken doll brands, as it was deluged by emails from critics around the world.

Mattel acknowledged receiving 83,000 emails, although Greenpeace said 200,000 had been sent from its servers as of midday Friday.

Greenpeace this week released a report, ‘Toying with Extinction,’ including laboratory analyses of packaging for Barbie dolls and other toys containing fiber from Indonesian rain forests. The group also unveiled documents tracing the supply chain from Mattel to Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), a Singapore company that has clear-cut vast swaths of the archipelago’s wildlife-rich forests.

In the first three days of the campaign, more than 700,000 people had viewed Greenpeace’s spoof videos of Ken breaking up with Barbie after watching her slaughter orangutans and tigers in “a shoot in some rain forest.” The video is translated into 18 languages.

El Segundo, Calif.-based Mattel did not name a date for adopting its new policy but said, “In addition to addressing current concerns about packaging sourcing, Mattel’s policy will also cover other wood-based products in its toy lines, such as paper, books and accessories.”

“Mattel has a long track record of playing responsibly across all areas of our business, which includes how we impact the world around us,” said Lisa Marie Bongiovanni, vice president of corporate affairs at Mattel. “While we don’t have all the answers yet, we are working to make continual improvements.’


Rolf Skar, Greenpeace’s senior forest campaigner, responded, however, “We also need to be sure that the world’s largest toy company is going to show leadership on this issue. That means acting immediately to stop dealing with suppliers linked to rain forest destruction, and ensuring they have rigorous standards for all of their products.” He added that Greenpeace, which has offices in 41 countries, is “willing to help them develop this policy and answer their questions, but until then our campaign continues.’

The Greenpeace campaign has spread across Facebook and Twitter. Facebook on Friday pulled Greenpeace ads that used a likeness of Ken, after Mattel claimed copyright infringement.

Greenpeace spokesman James Turner said the group had paid $400 for the ads, which had produced 2 million impressions. Among the targets of the ads were the 900 people on Facebook who list their employer as Mattel. “Our online team is pretty clever,” he added.

{UPDATE: Sat. June 11 7:45 a.m.‘We have not taken any actions to silence Greenpeace,’ Mattel said in a statement. ‘Nor have we requested the removal of Mattel’s intellectual property from their websites as they continue executing their campaign. The commercial use of our copyrighted images has been a small piece of their campaign overall.’]

Indonesia’s rain forests are the third-largest in the world after the Amazon and the Congo. But more than 40% of them have been cleared and burned in recent decades, mostly for paper products and palm oil.

Environmental groups, including Rainforest Action Network, Friends of the Earth, the World Wildlife Fund and many local Indonesian groups, as well as Greenpeace, have been pressuring the region’s two giant pulp companies, APP and Asia Pacific Resources International (APRIL) to renounce their claims to clear huge new concessions.


The archipelago’s rain forests harbor scores of endangered species, including Sumatran tigers, orangutans, elephants and leopards. But beyond their unparalleled biodiversity, rain forests store vast amounts of carbon, and when they are felled, carbon is released into Earth’s atmosphere, where it traps heat and contributes to climate change.

Indonesia is the third-biggest source of such greenhouse gases in the world, after the U.S. and China. Earlier this month, the Indonesian government agreed to a partial, two-year moratorium on forest clearing, after Norway pledged $1 billion to help the tropical nation preserve its forests. Norway, a major oil producer, has also pledged $1 billion to Brazil to help conserve the Amazon.

--Margot Roosevelt

Top photo: Barbie Fairytale Collection doll -- Made in Indonesia, purchased in the USA. Greenpeace released forensic evidence from an independent laboratory showing that the doll’s packaging contained mixed tropical hardwood from Indonesian rain forests. Credit: Greenpeace