When the iconic doll was revealed to contain lead paint, the toy giant created a 114-page crisis strategy that has become a case study in CSR crisis management

Barbie is arguably the world’s most iconic toy. Born in 1959, the fashion-savvy doll has been a favourite for generations.

Last Christmas, as part of the enduring need for Mattel to keep Barbie on-trend, she was spotted on Instagram wearing t-shirts in support of marriage equality.

But in 2007 Barbie was not so trendy. In fact, she was toxic – literally – as the paint used for supplementary Barbie products was found to contain deadly lead paint.

How Mattel handled the Barbie crisis has become a case study in CSR human rights management

Mattel had a crisis on its hands and how it handled it has become a case study in CSR human rights management.

Edena Low, vice-president of corporate citizenship and external affairs at Mattel, was not on board at the time; in fact, her job was created to some extent as a result of the scandal. But, she says the company acted quickly to face the problem.

She notes that despite the lead paint use being isolated to two manufacturers in China, the company chose to recall products from all suppliers.

Armed with a 114-page crisis strategy, CEO Robert Eckert and his company received widespread praise, from the media and in the US Congress for its handling of a complex and dangerous situation.

Mattel's supply chain commitment gives clear standards to suppliers. (Credit: kobby dagan/Shutterstock)

The company then focused on its culture, says Edena. “We have developed a strong focus on occupational health and safety. If you can’t get that right, you have no business talking social compliance,” she argues.

In 2015 the company launched its responsible supply chain commitment, including improved worker safety and training standards and clear expectations for Mattel suppliers to ensure employees are protected. It also moved from audits to developing partnerships with its suppliers.

Mattel also launched a collaboration with the Walt Disney Company and social enterprise Good World Solutions, using the latter’s Laborlink mobile technology tool to gather anonymous feedback on job satisfaction from 8,683 workers across four of its own factories in China.

Main picture credit: Mattel

This article is part of the in-depth briefing China’s New Dawn. See also:

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The brands going beyond auditing to give China’s apparel workers a voice

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toy industry  Mattel  China  Walt Disney  Good World Solutions 

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