SAN FRANCISCO — An Oregon-based group consisting largely of loggers and their families has an ax to grind with Barbie. But Mattel Inc., the popular doll's manufacturer, says the concerns have been blown out of proportion.
The Barbie brouhaha started in November, when Mattel aired commercials for its Barbie Children's Summit, a Thanksgiving week gathering in New York where 40 children from 27 nations chose world peace as the cause most deserving of support from a $500,000 Mattel fund. Efforts to fight homelessness and drug use were also deemed worthy. Simple enough.
But a tune sung by children in the ads featured lyrics such as, "The world would be a better place if we could save the trees and the eagles" and, "We can save our world together . . . we can stop the trees from falling."
This pushed the hot buttons of the Oregon Lands Coalition, a pro-logger group that lobbied Congress last year against legislation aimed at protecting the northern spotted owl. The group also has protested pro-environment donations and activities of companies as varied as K mart, Shearson Lehman Hutton, Canon Copiers, Esprit de Corp. and American Greeting Cards.
"Buy a Barbie & your $$ will help stop timber harvesting," the group wrote in a mid-November newsletter. It urged members to call Mattel to voice concerns that the Barbie summit might be used to "inflame the debates about our forests" and otherwise promote the "radical agenda" of preservationists.
Delegates to the Barbie summit were chosen on the basis of essays about how to make the world a better place. Mattel promised to donate money to the cause chosen by the young participants, including eight from the United States. Glenn Bozarth, a Mattel spokesman in El Segundo, said the environment ranked high as an issue but "wasn't the one the delegates focused on."
Despite Mattel's announced intention to distribute proceeds from November Barbie doll sales to organizations promoting peace and fighting homelessness and drug use, the Oregon Lands Coalition remains unconvinced.
"We have had no assurances from Mattel" that they will donate only to those entities, Jackie Lang, a coalition spokeswoman in Salem, Ore., said Tuesday.
"Our concern was that Mattel was using a catchy tag line to get people's attention," Lang added. The group, which Lang said includes "farmers, ranchers, miners and snowmobilers," fears that some funds could yet find their way to groups such as the National Wildlife Federation and the Nature Conservancy, which support more restrictive land use than the Oregon group espouses.
Of the summit itself, Lang described as "terrific" the idea of giving children a forum to discuss issues.
"Who could be anti-Barbie?" she said. "This is not Barbie-bashing."
Asked whether the Oregon group's campaign struck him as a tempest in a teapot, Bozarth said simply: "Yeah."