Mattel to modify paper sourcing as Greenpeace continues Barbie campaign

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

El Segundo-based Mattel Corporation, the world's largest toy maker, announced Friday that its policy for producing paper products including packaging would address concerns the company is contributing to deforestation.

"The policy will include requirements for packaging suppliers to commit to sustainable forestry management practices," Mattel wrote in a release. "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 came under fire this week from the international environmental activist group Greenpeace. In an action at Mattel headquarters on Tuesday, two activists dressed as Ken aided by others affiliated with Greenpeace used climbing gear to string up a banner on the toy maker's building. El Segundo police stopped a woman dressed as Barbie driving a bobcat painted pink outside Mattel property on a city street. Police arrested 10 activists on suspicion of trespassing.

Greenpeace alleges that Mattel obtains paper packaging surrounding Barbie dolls in Indonesia from a company that uses rainforest-derived hardwoods. Reports on the Greenpeace website of forensic tests of three Barbie packages revealed as much as 23 percent mixed tropical hardwoods in the content of that packaging.

Greenpeace connects Mattel to Asia Pulp and Paper, a division of the Sinar Mas group, via certificates Mattel requires of suppliers affirming that paper supplied is free from hazardous chemicals. A representative for Asia Pulp and Paper denied the Greenpeace allegations, but Mattel said it would stop using the company's product while it investigates the allegations.

"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," said Ian Lifshitz, APP's sustainability manager for American operations. "We are confident Mattel's investigation will show that our packaging materials are more than 95 percent recycled paper sourced from around the world."

Mattel promised it would continue to communicate with "interested stakeholders" as it develops a sustainability policy with regard to paper and pulp sourcing. "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, in a release. "While we don't have all the answers yet, we are working to make continual improvements across our business, and that includes packaging. In fact, earlier this year, Mattel completed a lifecycle assessment of packaging across multiple product lines to identify impacts and opportunities for future improvements."

Greenpeace senior forests campaigner Rolf Skar called the news encouraging, but pointed out that the policy doesn't exist, nor does it have an effective date. Skar called on Mattel to show leadership. "That means acting immediately to stop dealing with suppliers linked to rainforest destruction, and ensuring they have rigorous standards for all of their products," Skar said. "We are willing to help them develop this policy and answer their questions, but until then our campaign continues."

Much of the Greenpeace campaign has focused on social media. Greenpeace volunteers are also out on city streets talking about the issue. Activists on Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena sought support for the campaign Friday afternoon.