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The Big 13 – Make judgements on issues with an economic and ethical dimension

No person, enterprise or corporation operates in a vacuum and every action can have a consequence, positive or negative. Issues which affect people’s lives, the environment and society should be considered with integrity and thought.

Where previously profit ruled, the rise of Corporate Social Responsibility highlights how increasingly business is being asked to consider the ‘triple bottom line’ of People, Planet, Profit. Organisations like Fair Trade, 1% for the Planet, and Oxfam have done a great deal to increase awareness of issues around sustainability, the environment and the exploitation of Third World Workers. Now, not taking responsibility for the impact a business has in these areas can irreparably damage a company’s reputation and diminish a brand’s popularity.

Case Study – St Mary’s Catholic Primary Is Food Costing the Earth?

Is Food Costing the Earth was a six week project run in partnership with the Development Education Centre South Yorkshire (DECSY), Groundwork Dearne Valley and Herringthorpe Valley Allotments. It aimed to raise awareness of where food comes from, and how it is processed – and what impact this has on the environment.

The project launched by looking at children’s ‘Global Footprint’ – the impact each child’s behaviour has on the environment. This covers issues including how they travel, where they holiday, the rubbish they produce, and the energy they consume at home. Then over the course of another six sessions they looked at food and issues around packaging, food miles, supermarket control, environmental impact and fair trade.

Children visited an ordinary farm and an organic farm and heard about the differences. They looked at produce from supermarkets, where they come from and how heavily packaged they are. Then they compared them with produce from the local allotments – just over the road from the school. Children participated in ‘blind’ taste testing, rating the allotment vegetables ‘sweeter’ and ‘nicer’ than the supermarket vegetables. They also looked at what goes into food and did ‘guess the product’ games where they were given lists of incomprehensible ingredients (hydoxypropylmehyl cellulose, sulphur dioxide) and asked to guess what product they made (vegetarian sausages).

Talking to the children it was plain to see the impact the project had made upon them. Even months after the project had taken place they were still buzzing with ideas about what was the ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ thing to do. Comments they made variously included:

“Buy food locally…” “Try and get parents to buy more organic and fair trade foods…” and “Look at what’s on food labels…”

More than anything the aim of the programme was to make them aware that one day they would have a choice in making decisions about these issues, and that their decisions had a consequence. Through the project they explored the concept that everything they did impacted upon someone further down the line – that there was a farmer in a far off country getting paid a fraction of the cost of the banana they buy at the supermarket.

Teacher Kath Thomas said:

“It was a brilliant opportunity, it really opened their eyes. It’s so easy not to think about issues like these, but when you do it seems to bring out children’s innate sense of justice.”