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Greenpeace tags Mattel headquarters in a still from one of their videos protesting the toy company's association with Indonesian paper producer Asia Pulp and Paper

Barbie Saves Borneo

• February 20, 2013 • 7:56 AM

Greenpeace tags Mattel headquarters in a still from one of their videos protesting the toy company's association with Indonesian paper producer Asia Pulp and Paper

Dan Murphy of the Christian Science Monitor (remember them?) highlights an unlikely success story for environmental organizations, and a lesson in “market based” political campaigns:

…Paper – so ubiquitous you only really notice it when it’s not there, has been coming at a horrific cost – the annihilation of the richest, most biologically diverse rain forests on the planet by a sprawling company with over $4 billion in annual revenue that you’ve probably never heard of: Asia Pulp & Paper Co. Ltd. (The company says it’s worth about $10 billion.)

But this month, if the company is to be taken at its word, that is changing. In early February APP promised not to use a single splinter of wood again from natural forest, a stunning reversal that has environmental campaigners overjoyed. Why did it happen?

How indeed? Turns out several rainforest preservation organizations managed to swing public opinion against a few key paper consumers, forcing companies like Disney, toymaker Mattel, and McDonald’s to stop doing business with APP, a little-known Indonesian paper goliath. According to Murphy (who used to live and report in Indonesia) groups like the Rainforest Action Network and Greenpeace negotiated for over a year with Disney to get them to adopt paper production standards that effectively “froze” APP’s famously slash-and-burn harvest practices out of key markets like the US and EU.

Environmental activists have had APP and its larger parent, the Indonesian conglomerate Sinar Mas, in their sights for two decades. But they struggled to make headway against the company’s general indifference to environmental concerns, Indonesian government corruption, and the challenge of connecting seemingly innocuous paper to the disappearance of orangutans and Sumatran tigers in the minds of consumers…

Until:

…In 2011, when Greenpeace discovered that Mattel, the toy company that makes the Barbie doll, was using APP paper for its packaging, it targeted the company with a video campaign in which Ken, the toy’s boyfriend, is shocked and enraged to discover that Barbie is responsible for rain forest destruction, and dumps her in response. Mattel soon adopted new standards.

Here’s the video where Ken hears the news:

The rest of the story is here.

An ironic postscript isn’t included, so we’ll add it. Though largely forgotten outside industry circles, the Christian Science Monitor was the first American national newspaper to stop printing on paper at all—to stop being a newspaper—a risky move to announce in 2008, before “web only” publication seemed like a viable format for traditional news reporting. Talk about last laughs.

Marc Herman
Marc Herman is a writer in Barcelona. He is the author of The Shores of Tripoli.

More From Marc Herman

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