Environment & Science

Barbie goes to jail (and so do 2 Kens): Protest over rainforest pulp in Mattel packaging

Barbie, 2 Kens and 7 other people - all activists with Greenpeace - went to jail in El Segundo.
Barbie, 2 Kens and 7 other people - all activists with Greenpeace - went to jail in El Segundo.
Molly Peterson/KPCC

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During a demonstration outside Mattel headquarters in El Segundo, police arrested 10 activists with the environmental group Greenpeace. The activists aimed to link the maker of Barbie dolls with rainforest destruction.

[CORRECTED to identify Barbie's vehicle.]

Barbie got arrested first. Elise Nabors, 27, wore pink and turquoise spandex and drove a pink bobcat skiploader with "Barbaric" on the front where the iconic doll's name would be. She made it a few hundred feet along Continental Boulevard before an El Segundo police officer on a motorcycle stopped her. "Hey! Pull over!" he said.

Police arrested two guys dressed as her boyfriend Ken, too, several hours after they dropped down the side of Mattel’s building and weighted a banner there. Their stunt attempted to shed light on something many consumers don’t think about.

Greenpeace senior forests campaigner Rolf Skar says forensic tests of the packaging that surrounds Barbie products connects Mattel to a company that relies on virgin rainforest and to that company's operations under lax Indonesian government oversight.

Boxes Skar tested contained rainforest pulp in significant amounts. "We’ve linked it all the way back to paper mills there and we can show where the concessions are that one of the worst paper suppliers in Indonesia, Asia Pulp and Paper, is continuing to destroy tiger habitat and important forest lands there."

Skar says that unlike toymakers, many food distributors and office supply companies have already ended relationships with Asia Pulp and Paper and other harvesters of tropical hardwoods. "Most of the leading companies including Hasbro, Disney and others have really yet to address this problem. But Mattel is the biggest toymaker and they’ve been ignoring this problem for too long."

By mid-day, traffic choppers and a Sheriff's Department helicopter swung around the sky. Mattel employees stood in the windows behind the banner and in the parking lot, surveying the scene.

Mattel officials acknowledged that the company had talked with Greenpeace about paper sourcing. In a written statement, company representatives said they were surprised and disappointed that Greenpeace took what they called an "inflammatory" approach on these issues.