Mattel CSR: Is it Over for Barbie?

Last year it was decided by popular vote that Barbie made a better journalist than an environmental activist. Probably just as well because this year, her parent company Mattel is being targeted by Greenpeace on their CSR practices. Using a social media onslaught, Greenpeace activists alleged that Mattel uses rainforest-sourced paper pulp in its packaging, thus endangering innumerable endangered species and entire ecosystems.

On Tuesday, Greenpeace activists in turquoise vests rappelled down the face of the company’s 15-story headquarters in LA and hung a giant banner depicting a frowning Ken doll with the message: “Barbie: it’s over. I don’t date girls that are into deforestation.”

Greenpeace says it mounted the campaign to draw attention to the toy industry’s use of glossy cardboard packaging whose pulp is partly sourced from Indonesian forests through a Chinese paper producer. An independent lab detected “mixed forest hardwood” from rainforest species in packaging samples from products made by Mattel, Hasbro, Lego, Disney and other toy companies indicating unsustainable CSR practices.

Mattel responded to this saying, “Playing responsibly has long been an important part of Mattel’s business practices. We have been in communication with Greenpeace on a variety of paper-sourcing issues. We are surprised and disappointed that they have taken this inflammatory approach.” The company said it would “continue to assess our paper-sourcing and packaging improvements.”

The rapid destruction of the Indonesia’s vast forests is a significant cause of global climate change. In the last half-century, about 40% of the country’s forests have been cleared, mainly for palm oil plantations and pulp and paper operations. Although the ‘face’ of the campaign is Mattel, the ultimate target is Asia Pulp & Paper. APP is one of the world’s largest producers of wood products. It is part of the Sinar Mas Group that supplies most of the palm oil in the world. Sinar Mas has previously been a target of Greenpeace through its campaign launched against Nestle’s Kit Kat bar.

In a report entitled ‘Pulping the Planet’, Greenpeace states that “Corporate brands are silent partners to forest crime.” It goes on to say that Staples and Office Depot stopped buying paper from APP. It urges other APP customers to “introduce a zero-deforestation policy” along their supply chains as part of their CSR.

Barbie is not new to controversy and has been in the eye of many a storm in the past. However this seems to be the toughest one that she will weather yet. Perhaps it’s just as well that she never did become an environmentalist. She is, after all, made of plastic.

Akhila is the Founding Director of GreenDen Consultancy which is dedicated to offering business analysis, reporting and marketing solutions powered by sustainability and social responsibility. Based in the US, Europe, and India, the GreenDen's consultants share the best practices and innovation from around the globe to achieve real results. She has previously written about CSR and ethical consumption for Justmeans and hopes to put a fresh spin on things for this column. As an IEMA certified CSR practitioner, she hopes to highlight a new way of doing business. She believes that consumers have the immense power to change 'business as usual' through their choices. She is a Graduate in Molecular Biology from the University of Glasgow, UK and in Environmental Management and Law. In her free-time she is a voracious reader and enjoys photography, yoga, travelling and the great outdoors. She can be contacted via Twitter @aksvi and also http://www.thegreenden.net