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Toy giant Mattel drops paper from APP and other ‘controversial sources’

The world’s biggest toy-maker Mattel has pledged to overhaul its paper sourcing policies after a hard-hitting campaign from Greenpeace linked the toy giant to rainforest destruction in Indonesia by Asia Pulp and Paper (APP). Today, Mattel pledged to increase the use of recycled paper and sustainably-certified fiber to 70 percent by the year’s end, and 85 percent by 2015. In addition, the company has said any ‘controversial’ company engaged in natural forest destruction will be kept out of its supply line, referring to, but not naming directly, APP. Surprisingly, APP told that it ‘applauds’ Mattel’s new commitments.

“We are committed to advancing the use of sustainably sourced paper and wood fiber across our business, beginning with packaging,” said Lisa Marie Bongiovanni, vice president corporate affairs at Mattel, in a press release.

The change at Mattel comes after a Greenpeace investigation employed forensic analysis on Mattel paper-packaging and found fibers from APP, an umbrella paper products brand that sources from several companies linked to vast rainforest destruction in Sumatra. In a creative campaign against Mattel, Greenpeace staged a break-up between beloved Mattel toys, Barbie and Ken, over the issue of forest destruction, with Ken proclaiming ‘I don’t date girls that are into deforestation’. Over a half a million letters also went out to Mattel complaining of its link to forest destruction in Sumatra.

 Greenpeace's stunt at Mattel's headquarters on June 8.
Greenpeace’s stunt at Mattel’s headquarters on June 8

Greenpeace applauded Mattel’s decision, saying on their blog, that ‘hostilities between [Ken and Barbie] have ceased.’

At the time of the report’s issuance, Mattel said they had numerous sources for paper packaging and ‘it is not the normal course of business to dictate where suppliers source materials.’ In their most recent move, however, Mattel seems to be doing just that. It has told suppliers to drop any ‘controversial’ companies, such as APP, and plans to source more material from third party sustainably-certified sources, such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). However, even the FSC has faced harsh criticism from some environmental groups due to its practice of certifying clear-cutting and plantations, although Greenpeace itself is an acting member of FSC.

Mattel is not the first to cut APP out its supply chain: Staples, Woolworths, Office Max, and Office Depot among others have all cut ties with the brand. APP has been criticized by environmentalists for continuing to cut down virgin rainforests in Sumatra, home to the Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae), the Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii), and the Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis), all three of which are listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List (the worst ranking before extinction). Sumatra’s rainforests are also home to tens of thousands of other species, big and small. In addition the loss of rainforests and the drainage of carbon-rich peatlands is Indonesia’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions with some observers estimating that Indonesia has the third highest emissions rate in the world after industrial juggernauts, the USA and China.

A 2010 report from the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) and the Japan Tropical Forest Action Network (JATAN) estimated carbon dioxide emissions from APP’s paper production at several levels of magnitude beyond what APP claimed. Overall the report estimated APP’s total net emissions (emissions offset by carbon sequestration by its plantations) at 67-86 million tons of CO2e in 2006, or more than that of 165 countries. At this time, APP said the report “grossly exaggerates and misstates APP’s carbon footprint”.

“APP is paying a heavy price for continuing to rely on destroying rainforests for pulp and paper by losing another high profile customer. People don’t want to buy products that come from deforestation, and right now companies that want to be deforestation-free can’t use APP products. Asia Pulp and Paper has to face these realities and change,” Greenpeace writes in a blog.

APP has promised to change twice, but both times reneged on its pledges to stop cutting down native forest. Instead, APP has tried to counter criticism through an aggressive marketing campaign that has included press junkets, CSR reports, and glossy advertisements in The Economist and The New York Times. Advised by public relations firms like Cohn & Wolfe and Clark & Weinstock, APP has employed other groups as attack dogs to launch public assaults on companies that have dropped APP’s products and on environmental organizations that have raised concerns.

While APP has also contributed money to some conservation projects in Sumatra—including a tiger ‘conservation’ initiative, the Indonesian government’s effort to protect the Javan rhino, and two reserves: Giam Kecil-Bukit Batu Reserve and the Bukit Tigapuluh—these initiatives have received a tepid response from scientists, conservationists, and environmentalists, who note that APP still intends to destroy far more forest than it claims to help protect.

However Ian Lifshitz, Sustainability and Public Outreach Manager with APP, told today that the brand “applauds Mattel’s commitments to recycling, wood legality, protection of High Conservation Value Forest (HCVF), respect for the rights of indigenous peoples and robust auditing and certification procedures,” adding that “these principles very much mirror APP’s philosophy and environmental commitments and we are delighted to see a major global toy manufacturer adopt the same.”

Lifshitz also says that companies should look beyond the FSC for certifications, alleging that FSC “discriminates against products from Indonesia and other developing markets”, and adds that “APP supports policies that protect both the environment and the vital income which developing countries receive from the pulp and paper industries.”

APP was at one time certified by the FSC, until an investigative article from the The Wall Street Journal in 2007 pushed FSC to drop the brand.

“Companies are free-riding on our name,” Andre de Freitas, head of operations with the FSC, told The Wall Street Journal at the time. “I feel bad about it.”

Given the rise of ubiquitous throwaway paper packaging, APP paper can be found in packaging for “food, drinks, pharmaceuticals, home and personal care products and electrical goods,” according to a Greenpeace report.

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