Greenpeace activists re-branded LEGO’s Czech factory.
Early on Wednesday morning, on an industrial estate in the Czech Republic, our campaign to convince much-loved toy company LEGO to break their partnership with Arctic oil-drillers Shell, moved into a new phase of escalation. Greenpeace activists re-branded LEGO’s Czech factory - one of their three main production centres around the world - with a Shell logo, an oil spill, and giant unhappy minifigures, cleaning it up.
24 hours later, at the LEGO HQ in Billund, Denmark, the place where the company was founded in 1932; more Greenpeace activists appeared. They delivered a series of giant LEGO bricks representing the names of the 500,000 people from around the world who have written to the company asking them to drop the partnership with Shell. When LEGO refused to come out of the building to acknowledge the ‘petition’, activists built a wall of the white megabricks, each representing 10,000 signatures, blocking the entrance to LEGO Headquarters.
The actions followed LEGO’s refusal to respond to two weeks of a global campaign during which a video made to highlight the campaign ‘LEGO: Everything is NOT Awesome’ has been watched on YouTube over 4.5 million times; over half a million people, many of whom are LEGO customers, have signed our petition and the internet is awash with articles about how LEGO has got it wrong and why fans are so upset at the beloved toy brand.
LEGO CEO Jørgen Vig Knudstorp has responded to the campaign with one short statement saying "We expect that Shell lives up to their responsibilities wherever they operate and take appropriate action to any potential claims should this not be the case. I would like to clarify that we intend to live up to the long term contract with Shell, which we entered into in 2011." This is the corporate equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and chanting la-la-la. It’s also the same kind of buck-passing we used to see a decade or so ago when companies like Nestle would argue that they weren’t responsible for the palm oil that was in their supply chain or the rainforests that were destroyed to plant it.
Following a series of high-profile campaigns, many companies, Nestle included, have moved on and understood that it is both possible and necessary to take responsibility for who they work with - whether those they source from, or those they engage in partnerships with. Not taking this responsibility seriously can result in a tarnished brand which can then take years to repair.
Shell have partnered with LEGO because they know the power of a well-loved and ethically viewed brand, and how good the partnership can make them look. During Shell’s co-promotion with LEGO, Shell has seen a 7.5% rise in fuel sales, a 52% increase in customer loyalty in some markets and the promotion has provided $116m in PR value.
So what does LEGO actually get from this partnership? Does LEGO CEO Jørgen Vig Knudstorp understand how bad Shell can make his company look? Does he realise how damaging partnering with a company that has such a bad ethical and environmental record is for LEGO? Shell is a company that will go literally to the ends of the earth to keep pumping oil, endangering the pristine Arctic environment and its unique wildlife - it's totally at odds with LEGO’s carefully crafted environmental targets.
The campaign has only just begun. Half a million people who have so far joined it, not to mention the more than 5 million who have pledged to save the Arctic, want LEGO to listen to them. They will be wherever LEGO is - at it’s HQs, its factories, its toy shops, on its Facebook page and Twitter feed. When will Jørgen Vig Knudstorp take his fingers out of his ears and respond?