Friday, March 06, 2009

Banned from Barbie's birthday celebrations

It will be hard to miss the fabulous 50th birthday celebrations of a fabulous doll, Barbie. Guess who will be forgotten during all that hoopla? The very people who make Barbie and have been making her for 50 years.

One person who noticed that omission is Marie-Claude Hessler, a retired lawyer in Paris who is a Mattel shareholder. On March 5 she wrote an open letter to Robert Eckert, chairman and CEO of Mattel. I quote it in full here.

Mr Chairman and Chief Executive Officer,

Barbie is turning 50 on March 9th.

Impossible to miss the event with so many parades, fashion shows, special events, broadcasts and articles. Nothing is too beautiful nor too luxurious to celebrate Barbie's birthday : the best fashion designers dressed Barbie for the New York fashion show, Louboutin made her shoes, a big Barbie shop is opening in one of Shanghai's most prestigious avenues, there are British pink chocolates and Monaco's stamps representing Barbie. In Paris alone, there will be special events at the Galeries Lafayette; a Barbie week in the exclusive fashionable shop Colette with a Lagerfeld exhibit and the sale of the collectibles created by Jeremy Scott and of other various Barbie's objects; the doll museum will show 500 Barbies. And there is an Angela Merkel Barbie... and a luxurious pink Barbie Fiat 500 will parade through Milan on March 9th...

A true success in public relations – even if it does not make the product any younger.

But who has been left out of the parties? Among the flood of words and images nothing at all about the tens of thousand people who manufacture Barbie, her numerous accessories and licensed products. Yet without them, no Barbie and no party.

Why have they been left out? Because they have nothing to celebrate.

For twelve years, I have been watching closely the working conditions in Mattel's own factories as well as in Mattel's subcontractors' and licensees' factories : Mattel's track report is poor. Despite the adoption of a code of conduct in 1997, despite multiple independent audits, working conditions remain unacceptable : low wages, daily working hours of 12 if not more, weeks on end without a day off, noisy factory floors, too hot or too cold depending on the season, terrible smell of solvents due to insufficient ventilation... To make it short, conditions unworthy of Mattel... and Barbie.

Mr Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, I am asking you: will everybody be included in the celebrations? What will you do for the workers who have been left out of Barbie's birthday parties?

Yours sincerely,

Marie-Claude Hessler
Mattel shareholder

Mattel is not alone in its forgetfulness. Far, far from it. The whole global system of trade and investment is guilty of it.

I expect that Mattel’s CEO will have an answer. When will the World Trade Organization come up with its answer?

A final thought: imagine how much fairer globalization would be if a few more shareholders were as conscientious and diligent as Marie-Claude Hessler.

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