Going on an Ethical Shopping Tour

What are you voting for today?

This is the tagline for the Ethical Consumer Group, and that exact question has been on my mind a lot this year. Why? Well, because of using the absolutely AWESOME Ethical Shopping booklet produced by the Ethical Consumer Group. What an eye opener!!

I have been really keen to try out an Ethical Shopping session for ages, and finally this year I decided to give it a go – and involve the kids too.  So a couple of months ago, I took a group of about 10 grade 4,5 & 6 kids from our small Community School – Hurstbridge Learning Co-operative Primary on an Ethical Shopping Tour to a local supermarket.

Here’s how we introduced the concept of Ethical Shopping to the kids:

First, we talked with the kids about how much money they thought each family would spend on groceries each week (the guesses varied widely!)

Then we played with a scenario – ‘imagine someone told you they were going to make potato chips, and they were going to use the cheapest potatoes they could and palm oil too, because it made the most tasty chips. Then another person told you they were going to source potatoes from a local chemical free farmer, and make potato chips with locally pressed olive oil’. BUT both packets were called ‘Crispy potato chips – from the farm to you!’.

How could the kids know the difference when they were buying chips? We discussed how some people truly would not care which they bought, as long as it was the cheapest….but that if the kids did care (and they all did), how the way they spend their money is a VOTE for the way a manufacturer runs their operations, for better or for worse.

We were ready for our first part of our trial – shopping the way we ‘usually’ do

To start our session, we asked the kids to do some shopping using the processes they usually do when shopping with the family – which could be price, packaging, shape, country of manufacture, because it looks nice, because they have ‘heard of it’, or simply because that is what they always get.

They chose which of our local ‘big’ supermarkets to go to – the kids chose Coles. Each of three groups of kids then chose a product type – I let them chose whatever they wanted. One group chose cereal, another chocolate, and another soft drink. Then we went to Coles and bought an example of their product based on ‘how they usually shop’.

Now it gets interesting – Investigating our ‘usual’ shopping decisions!

We adjourned to a local cafe for a drink and to get stuck into the RESEARCH about the products we had just purchased using our ‘usual’ choosing methods!

This is where the Ethical Shopping booklets are so great – we looked up each of the products the kids had purchased, and could see how they were rated in terms of a whole manner of things – business practices, food miles, dodgy marketing and heaps more. The kids wrote down what rating their product was given and why.

The kids then listed some of the things that company did well (if any) and some of the business practices they had received criticism for. We were a bit shocked at the bad ratings two of the products had! But the third one was actually very good.

We looked up the Ethical Rating for the supermarkets themselves – oops – we decided we’d go to the IGA next time!

Can we ‘vote’ for better products if we know a bit more?

Next, the kids looked for other products in the same category in the Guide, and tried to work out which was going to be their BEST choice, based on the rating system of the Ethical Shopping Guide. They wrote down some of the things those ‘better choice products’ had received praises or criticisms for. We discussed how, for some products, there is actually no choice that rates above a C – not so great….but there is simply nothing available that is any better.

Before we headed back to the shop to make a new purchase based on our new knowledge, we introduced the kids to the Ethical Shopping app – wow – everyone should download it (it’s a once off $4.95 and worth every cent – Android and iPhone)! You simply scan the barcode of a product, and it will pop up the rating for that product and company without any searching in the book required – it’s really awesome!

So – BACK we went to the supermarket, spent ages scanning bar codes for all sorts of things (it is so much fun and so interesting). And finally, the kids chose a product from the same category again, but based on what they had learned from the book, our discussion, and the Ethical Shopping app….and their choices were quite different.

What the kids learned

The kids were truly engaged in the shopping tour – they asked great questions and were really  fascinated to find out the facts behind the brands (as was I). Some of the things they found particularly interesting were:

– how some products have a good rating in one area an a bad one in another – so you have to make your own choices too, based on what values are more important to you. Eg. if you had only two choices, would you rather buy something Australian made with bad packaging or made overseas with good packaging? It’s not always black and white!

– That there are a HUGE amount of factors to consider behind each product, business, and manufacturing process – from child labour, to food miles, to chemically intensive processes. And that if you don’t dig deeper than the branding and marketing from the brand, it’s really hard to find out about any of it.

– We talked a lot about how there are actually not many ‘good’ options for many supermarket products….and that sometimes the easiest way to ‘vote’ with our shopping money for the things we care about, is to buy things that are locally made or grown  by small companies, where you can see how they run their business first hand.

Happy ethical shopping with your new Ethical Shopping Guide and App everyone!