Pacific Swell | Southern California environment news and trends

What connects Mattel to illegal Indonesian logging?

A few weeks back I reported on a Greenpeace action aboutw Mattel. It wants the world's largest toy maker to verify that toy packaging doesn't contain illegally harvested rainforest. Mattel said it's looking into everything. Greenpeace says it's still waiting. Pacific Swell has looked at Indonesia rainforest implications for California. I've checked some evidence the international environmental group relies on, circumstantial and direct.

Greenpeace says that Mattel has packaged Barbie dolls in boxes made from up to 23% "mixed tropical hardwoods" in Indonesia. That's the result of a test done in Wisconsin. When I talked to Rolf Skar, a Greenpeace senior forests campaigner based in SF, he told me that he walked into a Daly City Target and grabbed 4 boxes off the shelf. Skar sent them to tests; the tests break down by percentage what's in the pulp of the paper-based packaging.

The activist group seeks to link El Segundo and the conglomerate Asia Pulp and Paper through business/practice evidence. A box made in Indonesia contains tropical hardwoods. Just two large scale companies use that stuff in Indonesia: APP and another company, APRIL. Of those two, only APP produces packaging materials in Indonesia, where Barbies are made and packaged. Mattel requires its suppliers to vouch that they've not used hazardous chemicals in materials Mattel sells; only APP mills in Java and China have done that.

Through the supply chain, activists check paperwork. It's pretty widely acknowledged that papers get faked, either on the way out of Indonesia, or on the way in to the US. But sometimes companies don't even have those. In theory, Indonesia issues logging permits through regional offices; to log, to make paper, you need paper documentation, which is vaguely absurd.

On the ground, Greenpeace and others study satellite images where they know loggers for APP operate. They seek testimony from people in the area - and sometimes take reporters with them to look for logging behind protected-park borders, or near threatened animal species.

APP and Mattel may have explanations for all this. Since that first publicity stunt I've tried to speak directly to Asia Pulp and Paper, the international conglomerate the Greenpeace crew has gathered evidence about, as well as to Mattel. Nothing doing, yet, on either count.

Its worth noting that on Rainforest Realities, Asian Pulp and Paper's website devoted to its side of the story, they have posted a comment from the head of the Indonesian pulp and paper association.  APP/Sinar Mas has earlier denied illegal practices to BBC.

I'd welcome the chance to talk to either APP or Mattel further about their practices. The jury's not out - but it may not make sense to wait around a metaphoric courtroom forever, either.


(Photo of logging in Indonesian peat forests via Greenpeace.)