LEGO: “We would not approve such a product again”
The saga of the LEGO stickers continues, but to the company’s credit, after a tone-deaf initial response, they have provided more details and illustrated they clearly understand the concerns I and others have raised. More on that below.
A week ago I posted a photo of a set of LEGO stickers which portrayed a construction worker shouting “Hay Babe” and I complained about the message this sent to kids for whom the stickers were designed. Those stickers served to spark quite a debate about LEGO, gender, toys and street harassment.
Kriston Capps at Architect Magazine wrote, “Women really shouldn’t have to endure catcalls from anybody, much less tiny yellow builders,” adding that “The catch-phrase is certainly sexist, but something about the sunglasses renders the familiar sexless yellow Lego figurine into a threatening creeper.”
And over at Slate, Amanda Hess argued that “Lego’s depiction of construction workers definitely has a gender problem—in addition to the cat-calling, the set reinforces the idea that the field is exclusively for ‘men at work!’” She also pointed to another LEGO sticker set, produced by the same company (Creative Imagination) which included a firefighter who was labeled “Hot Stuff.”
One of the first groups to weigh in on the stickers was Stop Street Harassment, who wrote “Street harassment is normalized in our society, in part because it is regularly portrayed as a compliment, a joke, or no big deal in kids’ cartoons, television shows, comedy routines, movies, commercials, product packaging, and even in kids toys, like these stickers by Lego that are aimed at kids, particularly boys.”
Their read on the stickers seemed to predict the first response I got from LEGO this weekend. Charlotte Simonsen, Senior Director at LEGO’s corporate communications office told me that “To communicate the LEGO experience to children we typically use humor and we are sorry that you were unhappy with the way a minifigure was portrayed here.” Clearly a lot of people didn’t see the humor here.
I wrote back to Simonsen asking a series of follow-up questions about LEGO’s licensing guidelines and how a product like this could make it through their review process. Simonsen shared my questions with her team and followed up with a note from Andrea Ryder, the head of the LEGO Group’s Outbound Licensing Department. Ryder clearly understood the problems with this product, “I am truly sorry that you had a negative experience with one of our products […] the product is no longer available and we would not approve such a product again.” (emphasis added)
That is an important statement, and I think it constitutes a real win.
Ryder said that they are not able to share the details of their licensing guidelines but that they work to make sure all licensing deals “fully aligned with the LEGO values.” You can see those values here. Ryder went on to say “we choose our partners very carefully” a process she says can take more than two years in many cases, and that LEGO expects their licensees to “live up to the highest standards.”
In the case of these stickers those standards clearly were not upheld. However, I’m hopeful that the attention and conversation sparked by this incident will be taken seriously by LEGO and other toy manufacturers. Play can be such a positive force in developing a caring culture and modeling the kind of world we want to live in. That’s why I’m glad LEGO has engaged openly around these issues and appreciate their responsiveness.
Below is the full response from Andrea Ryder, of the LEGO Licensing Department:
My name is Andrea Ryder, I am the head of the LEGO Group’s Outbound Licensing Department, and I am truly sorry that you had a negative experience with one of our products.
The LEGO Group’s licensing program is built on a strategy that needs to be fully aligned with the LEGO values that are available on http://aboutus.lego.com/en-us/lego-group/the_lego_brand/. Today we have limited our licensing strategy to these following categories: Books, Apparel, Bags, Watches, Storage items, Stationery, LED lights and iPhone covers. We have chosen these categories carefully with the relevance for our consumers in mind as we only want to enrich and support the LEGO brand experience.
As previously mentioned, the product is no longer available and we would not approve such a product again. I am not able to share the details of our Licensing guidelines but I can share that we choose our partners very carefully and that it often takes more than 2 years from the start of a partnership until you see a product in the market. We require from our Licensees that they do live up to the highest standards and on top our own, which can be even more demanding than the standards of the industry in the given product category.
I’d like to thank you for taking the time to write to us about your concerns. We welcome all feedback and will use it in future evaluation of how we can best enrich the LEGO experience to our many fans around the world.
(Correction: I originally listed Kriston Capps as working for the American Institute of Architects, not Architect Magazine)