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9 — The ethical consumer: Part 1

In this sequence and the next, the students will explore the concept of the ethical consumer. The students will first look at the idea of needs versus wants as they explore a series of text extracts from literature and determine the needs and wants of the characters presented, based on their social and environmental contexts. The students will share their personal views on the texts and will be asked to justify their responses. They will also use extracts from literature to think about and discuss whether many of our ‘needs’ are in fact ‘wants’ and what that means for us as consumers. ACELT1620ACELT1621

This sequence draws on the the General Capabilities of Ethical Behaviour, Literacy, Numeracy, and Critical and Creative Thinking.

A cartoon of a child in a pram looking at another child in a pram with the thought bubble ‘Want new iPram6! “made by children FOR children”’

Above: Pram envy, illustration by Jan Gillbank

Activity 1: Needs versus wants

Ask the students to make a list of the last five purchases that they have made, using the Purchases worksheet. Then have them place an ‘N’ next to any item that they believe was a need (i.e. something that you must have) and a ‘W’ next to any item they believe was a want (i.e. something that you want to have).

Students then share their lists with a partner and discuss the concepts of wants and needs, making note of any items that are difficult to categorise as a want or a need. Why are they difficult to categorise?

Create a whole class tally and calculate what percentages of total purchases were needs and wants. It is valuable for you to participate in this activity as well.

Activity 2: Looking at literature

Present the students with some extracts from literature that have been drawn from different social and environmental contexts. Ask them to highlight what they perceive to be a character’s needs versus a character’s wants, based on the context or situation that the character finds themselves in. ACELT1619 Explain that some of the needs may not be physical things. Ask the students to also highlight the language techniques that the authors have used to draw the reader into the character’s dilemma and the urgency of the situation. Texts that could be used include:

Additional resources

In 2007, World Vision produced a satirical short film/advertisement to promote its annual 40-hour famine campaign. Titled Teenage Affluenza is Spreading Fast, the film can be used to further stimulate the discussion of needs versus wants. An additional film resource is the movie Millions. A key theme in the movie is ethics and ethical behaviour. You can see the Millions movie trailer here.

Discussion questions

If so many of our purchases are wants rather than needs and when we think about it we know that we can live without these things, what compels us to want so much?

Connect student thinking back to some of the key ideas presented in Sequence 6 and the Secrets of the Superbrands series, in terms of the brain research into our emotions and feelings when it comes to advertising and our purchasing habits.

Connect thinking to the overarching question for this unit: Are we being bought? Explain to the students that when it comes to what we choose to buy, the key thing is to be an informed consumer: to be aware of whether we really want (or need) the item being sold, to be aware of how we are being persuaded to buy, and to be aware of what it is that we are really buying and to ask questions if we are unsure.

Activity 3: Creative writing revisit

Drawing on the language techniques and the ways in which characters have been introduced by the authors in the text extracts explored in this sequence, ask the students to revisit their creative writing extracts from Sequence 8. Ask the students to now think about the character in their story. How can this character be introduced and what techniques can they use as an author in developing a short story? The students can be encouraged to complete a short story that is set in the near future where a character encounters new advertising techniques. The character should then face some form of moral or ethical dilemma.

Activity 4: What’s behind the label?

To draw attention to ethical consumerism, show the World Vision clip What’s Behind the Label? Before watching the clip, ask the students to predict what they think it will be about. Then view the clip with the students. Were their predictions correct?

Ask the students to write down their definitions of ethical consumerism. (They may wish to view the clip more than once to assist with their understanding of the concept and to note the ideas presented in the clip.)

Reinforce the idea that being an ethical consumer is about not only being aware of what we buy and where a product comes from, but also why we are compelled to buy a product.

Activity 5: Ranking scenarios – ethical consumers

The students will now apply their definitions of ethical consumerism as they complete the Ranking scenarios worksheet. Ask them to rank the scenarios from 1 to 5, giving a 1 to the scenario they believe best depicts the most ethical consumer and a 5 to the least ethical consumer. Explain that this is not a test and it is very open to interpretation. Once the students have individually ranked each scenario, they will work in groups to share the reasons for their rankings. ACELY1804

Ask the students to complete a short written reflection on which scenario they could best relate to, or which scenario was the furthest removed from their current consumer habits and why.