Why Lego reluctantly agreed to disassemble its deal with an oil company

Isn’t that President Business?
Isn’t that President Business?
Image: Greenpeace
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Everything was looking awesome for Lego, as revenues from “The Lego Movie” recently made the Danish company the world’s biggest toymaker by revenue. But then those pesky environmentalists from Greenpeace came along, with a brutal parody video criticizing Lego’s business dealings with oil giant Shell.

Everything’s Not Awesome” went viral, and forced Lego to announce today that it would end its £68 million ($110 million) deal to sell toys at Shell gas stations in 26 countries.

“We want to clarify that as things currently stand we will not renew the co-promotion contract with Shell when the present contract ends,” said Lego CEO Jørgen Vig Knudstorp in a statement.

Knudstorp wasn’t happy about it: He railed against Greenpeace for involving his company—”and everyone who enjoys creative play”—in its dispute with Shell. “We do not agree with the tactics used by Greenpeace that may have created misunderstandings among our stakeholders about the way we operate,” he said. “We want to ensure that our attention is not diverted from our commitment to delivering creative and inspiring play experiences.”

“Creative play” is a watchword at Lego—it is referenced no less than six times in a seven-paragraph press release—but it feels a bit jarring for a company with $4.7 billion in annual revenue to claim that its main objective in the Shell deal was to “deliver on our promise of creative play,” instead of simply selling more of its famously expensive toy sets.

Knudstorp also complained that Greenpeace “use[d] the Lego brand to target Shell.” But surely a socially-responsible company that, in Knudstorp’s words, wants to ”leave a positive impact on society and the planet that children will inherit,” would be familiar with the fossil fuel divestment movement? Lego’s plastic bricks are partially made from petroleum, after all.

In any case, Lego’s announcement leaves plenty of wiggle room for its association with Shell to proceed a while longer, since it does not state when the contract between the companies is set to expire. (Lego did not immediately respond to a request for clarification.) The Shell marketing department, for one, does not seem to have received the memo: