Everything is (not) awesome: Greenpeace, Shell & Lego activism.

Greenpeace & Lego

Greenpeace want Lego to end its links with Shell, and are currently campaigning through the medium of imaginative Lego re-creation. This video is one of a number of examples, whose aim is to encourage people to sign this petition. In the wake of the hugely successful Lego Movie (whose stars make a cameo appearance) this campaign is becoming perhaps the most lavish and high-profile example of Lego activism to date.

followthethings.com & Lego

On a much smaller budget, we’ve been making, photographing and posting online re-creations in Lego of (imagined) scenes from trade justice films, art and activism for a while now. See, for example, our recreations from and around the BBC Panorama documentary ‘Primark on the rack’.

Primark Rana Plaza Lego

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One question we’re asked is: do you know if the Lego Group are happy about you doing this?

We know that we own the copyright of photographs that we take of scenes that we have made. These are all published with Creative Commons licenses. We also know that the Group sued the artist Zbigniew Libera for creating a series of Lego branded concentration camp sets in 1996 (see them here, the legal story is mentioned in this Lego art book). We don’t use the Lego logo and don’t, for example, claim that a new Lego Rana Plaza set is in the shops.**

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Another questions we are asked is: what about where how, where and by whom Lego is made – have you Legoed that? 

No is the answer. Partly because we can’t imagine how to do this (yet), partly because the Lego Group hasn’t been the subject of any journalistic exposé that we know of, and partly because the information that the Group makes public about itself suggests a degree of transparency and ethical business practice that’s reasonably positive (as our Lego Ethical Trade Trump card – using Free2Work data – suggests).

Oil and Lego

We appreciate what Greenpeace are trying to do, and are impressed with the quality of the recreations, animation and music. This is powerful work. But we’re left wondering what else could have been built into these re-creations – and this campaign – because of the materialities of oil and plastic.

What we see in the animation above is the pouring of oil onto oil-based plastics. Lego’s signature bricks have, since the 1960s, been made from ABS, a combination of oil-based plastic and rubber. ABS gives bricks ‘the ability to stay clicked together until a child separates them – what Lego terms the ‘clutch power” (Miel 2014, np link). More sustainable sources of plastic are being considered by the company, but re-creating an identical ‘clutch power’ with different materials will be a difficult technological task (ibid).

What we would like to know –  to get back to the Greenpeace campaign –  is if and how Shell (and any other company planning to drill for oil in the Arctic) supply Lego with the (oil to make the) plastic to make its bricks. Based on what we know about the oil and plastics industry and the suppliers that Lego list on their website, this won’t be a simple detective work task.

And are there other connections to make here? Could the oil that’s used to make Lego’s ABS bricks have been sourced from the Niger Delta, the Caspian Sea, or the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador? What kinds of Lego re-creations could be made out of these connections? That oil comes from somewhere…

We need some help here! What do you know…? Comments please…

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**Update

Three weeks after we published this post, as part of a whole host of follow-up actions, Greenpeace did produce a spoof Lego-branded “Arctic Oil Spill” set, and made sure that Lego knew about it, too.

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