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7 June 2011

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Indonesia

Barbie, Legos, other toys linked to destruction of Indonesia's rainforests

Some of the world's largest and most prominent toy-makers are sourcing their packaging materials from companies linked to large-scale destruction of Indonesia's rainforests, alleges a new report from Greenpeace.

The report, How APP is Toying with Extinction, is based on forensic analysis of toy packaging from Mattel, which manufacturers Barbie and Hot Wheels toys; Disney, which makes a variety of toys linked to its movies; Hasbro, which produces GI Joe, Star Wars, and Sesame Street toys and various games like Monopoly and Scrabble; and Lego, which makes the iconic plastic building blocks. The analysis found traces of mixed-tropical hardwood (MTH) and acacia fiber which are principally sourced from Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), an umbrella paper products brand that sources from several companies that have been linked to rainforest destruction in Sumatra. Despite widespread criticism from green groups and defections of major customers, APP continues to source from rainforests that are home to critically-endangered Sumatran tigers and elephants. According to WWF-Indonesia, APP's subsidiaries control hundreds of thousands of hectares of rainforests in Riau and Jambi provinces in Sumatra. The concessions include extensive areas of carbon-dense peatlands, which when converted to plantations, release large amounts of carbon dioxide.

To publicize the report, Greenpeace activists, dressed in tuxedos to depict Barbie's boyfriend Ken, climbed Mattel's Los Angeles headquarters with a giant banner stating: "Barbie: It's Over. I Don't Date Girls That Are Into Deforestation."

Mattel expressed disappointment over the action.

"Over the past months we have been in communication with Greenpeace on a variety of paper-sourcing issues," Mattel said via a statement emailed to mongabay.com. "We are surprised and disappointed that they have taken this inflammatory approach, considering the open channels of communications we’ve established. We will continue to assess our paper sourcing and packaging improvements as we move forward."

Neither Disney nor Hasbro immediately return mongabay.com's request for comment.

Greenpeace's action comes just weeks after activists from the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) targeted Disney over its paper-sourcing policies for children's books. RAN said forensic analysis showed Disney was buying from APP.

Greenpeace said it started with toys because the sector is "a highly visible example of consumer brands that use a lot of glossy packaging." It notes that other industries also buy from APP.

"Key sectors for packaging include food, drinks, pharmaceuticals, home and personal care products and electrical goods," states the report. "APP presents a brand risk to companies within these sectors, linking them through their paper and packaging supply chains to the destruction of Indonesia's rainforests."

"Unlike some progressive companies such as Unilever or Nestlé, top players in the toy sector seem oblivious to the risk to their brands through links to deforestation."

According to Greenpeace, over half APP's paper and packaging is produced in China, where it has mills. APP uses virgin fiber for high-quality packaging materials that are typically used for toys. In 2009 imported wood made up two-thirds of the fiber needed by APP China for pulp production.

In recent years APP has also expanded operations in Canada. Its affiliate, Paper Excellence, which like APP is also controlled by the Sinar Mas group of companies, has bought up seven mills in the past year in Canada and Europe.

Through expansion overseas, APP and Sinar Mas may hope to escape sanctions levied on it by the U.S. Department of Commerce, according to one analyst, who requested anonymity. APP has recently stepped up an aggressive public relations campaign to counter criticism over its environmental practices. It has released a number of sustainably reports and regularly runs full-page advertisements in publications like The Economist and The New York Times touting its environmental record. It has also contributed money 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. But 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.

Advised by public relations firms like Cohn & Wolfe and Clark & Weinstock, APP has also employed more questionable methods, including supporting groups like World Growth International and the Tea Party-affiliated Consumer Alliance for Global Prosperity which have launched public attacks on companies that have dropped its products (Staples, Office Max, Office Depot) and environmental organizations that have raised concerns about its environmental conduct. These groups are now working to undermine the Lacey Act, the law that prohibits the import of timber and paper products sourced via illegal logging.

While APP subsidiaries have acquired concessions from the Ministry of Forestry in Indonesia, Greenpeace alleges that APP has illegally cleared peatlands in Sumatra. Furthermore three APP affiliates — PT Wirakarya Sakti, PT Rimba Hutani Mas, and PT Tebo Multi Agro — were named by the state audit agency as delinquent in paying timber royalties or fines to the Jambi forestry service.

In its report Greenpeace calls on toy-makers to dissociate themselves with illegal logging and destruction of Indonesia's rainforests and peatlands by implementing strong sourcing policies that would exclude fiber produced by APP until it cleans up its operations. Greenpeace notes that Golden Agri Resources, the palm oil division of Sinar Mas, has already moved to eliminate deforestation from its supply chain, while APP "remains stuck in a deforestation-dependent economic growth model."

Greenpeace says Western companies can help support Indonesia's shift to a low-carbon development pathway — a goal set by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono — through their procurement policies.

"Corporate consumers can drive low-carbon development by implementing policies to clean up their production and supply chains," states the report. "This rewards responsible producers, by not unfairly subsidizing environmentally irresponsible companies."

Greenpeace says that with the right market signals, Sinar Mas could be transformed.

"The Sinar Mas Group – Indonesia’s leading player in both the pulp and palm oil sectors – could drive low-carbon development by establishing industry best practice standards."

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