LEGO is one of the most beloved toy brands ever, and has been since the 1950s. Interlocking bricks gave way to thousands of playsets in every theme any kid could possibly think up, including towns and cities, space, robots, scientists, pirates, trains, Vikings, castles, dinosaurs, scientists, undersea exploration, superheroes, the Wild West, and even a minifig-scaled Star Wars Millennium Falcon in all of its 5,000+ piece glory.
These prized toys have branched out to make up an entire wildly in-demand franchise. There are 90 LEGO retail stores and six LEGOLAND theme parks worldwide. Numerous popular characters have undergone LEGO makeovers for branded video games, and “The LEGO Movie,” the toy line’s first full-length animated feature, was released in February 2014 and has grossed nearly $258,000,000 in just the US.
The Wall Street Journal reported just last month that LEGO had dethroned Mattel, makers of Barbie, as the world’s top toy maker.
With all of its marketing and branding efforts and worldwide commercial success, it seems odd — nonsensical, even — that LEGO would carry on a several decade-long “strategic partnership” with Shell Oil Company.
LEGO collaborated with Shell from the 1960s through the 1990s. They rekindled their partnership in 2011, creating branded minifigs, cars, and trucks as a direct ploy to advertise to young children.
Shell has spent billions of dollars in attempts to convince the public and brainwash children that they are a company that cares. Their money speaks loudly, but their actions speak louder.
Shell Oil has one of the worst safety records [PDF] of any company operating in both the United States and the United Kingdom. They have repeatedly showed a brazen disregard for worker safety, for the rights of local communities and human rights, and have a lengthy record of significant environmental violations.
In the United States alone, Shell Oil Company has paid nearly $1 billion in fines for safety and environmental violations, settled with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for $450 million for fraudulent crude oil trades, were fined $500,000 for five toxic releases near schools in Texas, and as of 2007, they hold the #1 mortality rate of any large western company. Not to mention, it is Shell who recklessly spilled 10 million gallons of oil in Nigeria in 2008 and 2009 and 4,380 barrels of oil in the North Sea over the course of 10 days in 2011.
Shell has long had plans of drilling for oil in the Alaskan Arctic, a plan that has faced criticism since 2012. Not-so-coincidentally, during the time Shell was facing public outcry about their drilling plans, 16 million Shell-branded LEGO playsets were sold or given away at gas stations across 26 countries. This PR move didn’t just help Shell’s public image, but it also accounted for a 7.5% worldwide spike in LEGO sales. This made Shell a major contributor to LEGO’s global sales. But while this business arrangement may be lucrative for both companies, it is a partnership that is bad for kids, bad for the environment, and bad for the wholesome, family-friendly image LEGO has worked hard to maintain.
Shell’s strategy to partner with a beloved brand to clean up its dirty image as an environmental destroyer came to an end when Greenpeace launched a successful 3-month campaign to get LEGO to block Shell.
The campaign kicked off with the most viral video in Greenpeace history: an Arctic environment made entirely of LEGOs, a devastating oil spill depicting the very real consequences of Shell drilling for oil in such a uniquely stressed and fragile ecosystem, and the most depressing rendition of the song everyone knows from “The LEGO Movie,” “Everything Is Awesome.”
The video gained audiences and momentum all over the world.
Children staged a playful protest as they built giant Arctic animals out of LEGOs on the doorstep of Shell’s London HQ. Miniature LEGO people from Hong Kong to Buenos Aires held “small but furious protests” against the partnership, some recreating famous protests at international landmarks. LEGO climbers were placed to protest at a Shell gas station at LEGOLAND in Billund, Denmark. Finally, 1 million people made their disapproval of the strategic partnership heard by signing petitions, creating their own protest signs, and showing up at the flagship LEGO store in New York City dressed in costume.
After a fierce 3-month campaign by Greenpeace and their supporters, LEGO broke up with Shell Oil Company for good. Now it’s time for Shell to leave the Arctic in peace.
Due to scientifically-proven climate change, the Alaskan Arctic sea ice cover reached its lowest point on record this year. Shell still plans to drill for oil there in 2015, even though they have proven time and again that they cannot be trusted to do so safely. When they attempted to drill in 2012, its rig ran ashore, one of its ships caught on fire, and the Environmental Protection Agency found that they had violated the terms of their permit.
You can donate to Greenpeace here to help them in their efforts to put an end to Shell’s Arctic drilling plans once and for all, and to protect other fragile ecosystems around the world.