Oxfam Canada: Workshop Activities for Trade and Globalization

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Oxfam Canada: Workshop Activities for Trade and Globalization

- collected by Terry Newcombe and Mehrdad Hazeghi, Oxfam Canada volunteers, Oct/2002

To the reader: we recommend that you download as much of these as possible to put in printed-out appendices, since websites are notorious for removing old stuff.


  1. The Bead Game (source: CUSO)

  • This game for high school through adults teaches trade and globalization issues. It takes 45-75 minutes, including follow-up discussion.

  • Played in complete silence, participants trade coloured beads, having different quantities and goals to represent different countries/classes. The game opens up discussion on several topics like fairness and team vs individual goals, which can be discussed at world, community, and personal levels.

  • Download the game at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/OxfamEducation/. This is a Yahoo Group (list server) on education of world issues, and is useful for other resources as well. You must be a Yahoo member first (signing up is free, just a bit tricky for some people). Click 'Sign in' and follow the prompts. Once you're a member of Yahoo, go back to this page and click 'Join this group', then click the Files link to see the game. After downloading, you can always remove yourself from the group if you don't want messages from fellow Canadian educators on world issues themes.

  1. The Effects of Globalization in Latin America (source: Mary Knoll Missions)

  • This is a seven-class lesson plan, based on stories collected in Latin America by Maryknoll Catholic Missionaries. It includes several interesting games, including

    • a class discussion based on the contents of a shopping bag brought in by the facilitator

    • small-group discussions and case studies on structural adjustment plans

    • a role-playing game, with roles like the Latin American worker, the IMF/World Bank, and the local elite.

  • Download from http://www.maryknoll.org/EDUCA/CORNER/studyguides/edup_la.htm.

  1. Trade Concessions Stand (source: NY Times)

        • This is a lesson plan exploring the foundations of the World Trade Organization. It includes small-group discussions and links to reference material.

        • Download from http://www.nytimes.com/learning/teachers/lessons/19991118thursday.html.

        • This site also has many other valuable lesson plans: http://www.nytimes.com/learning/teachers/lessons/archive.html. (E.g., search on 'trade'.)

  1. A "Make Trade Fair" Presentation (source: Oxfam Canada)

  • This is a draft 30-minute presentation, where one or two people lead a discussion on globalization and Oxfam's Make Trade Fair campaign issues.

  • Download the Word document at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/OxfamEducation/. This is a Yahoo Group (list server) on education of world issues, and is useful for other resources as well. (See description in item 1 above.)


  1. A Sweatshop Fashion Show (source: Maquila Solidarity Network)

  • This is an easy, fun and creative educational tool to inform ourselves and people in our communities about the sweatshop abuses hidden behind the labels of the major brands.

  • Download a sample script and instructions at http://www.maquilasolidarity.org/tools/campaign/fashionshow.htm.

  • This takes as few as two facilitators if you use the workshop participants as models, otherwise it needs 2-5 additional facilitators.

  1. Sweatshop Christmas Carols (in season)

        • As a short activity/filler, get the class to sing a Christmas Carol or two about sweatshops, and then ask them what the issues are in the song.

        • Download some sweatshop carols at http://www.maquilasolidarity.org/tools/campaign/carols.htm, or make your own by modifying popular carols with current trade/sweatshop issues.

  1. Sweating the Big Stuff (source: NY Times)

        • This is a lesson plan on labour conditions around the world. It includes small-group discussions and links to reference material.

        • Download from http://www.nytimes.com/learning/teachers/lessons/20010425wednesday.html.

        • This site also has other valuable lesson plans: http://www.nytimes.com/learning/teachers/lessons/archive.html

  1. Just Fashion: Small-group Discussions (source: One World Research and Education Network, OWREN)

        • This website provides five participative activities to learn about sweatshop and child labour issues. One is a check-each-other's-clothing-tags game, one is a questionnaire promoting discussion, and three are small-group discussions.

        • This site also includes many related reading/speaking resources, as well as a section on things to reflect on after taking part in the activities.

        • View or download the activities at http://www.owren.org/jf/index.html.

        • This organization also has similar activities on themes of Poverty and Human Rights, at http://www.owren.org.

  1. The Transnational Capital Auction (source: Bill Bigelow)

        • The first half of this page is "The Human Lives Behind the Labels" (sweatshops), but scroll down to "The Transnational Capital Auction"), a game whereby the students represent several countries competing for business from a transnational like Nike. This quickly turns into a 'race to the bottom'.

        • Download from http://www.rethinkingschools.org/Archives/11_04/swetm.htm.

        • This page has other games, mostly on sweatshop themes.

Food Security and Trade

  1. A World in Jeopardy (source: Oxfam Canada)

  • This is the television Jeopardy game but with questions on food security and trade.

  • For a copy of one version of the game board, download "Putting Food on the Global Table" at http://oxfam.ca/education/index.htm.

  • Photocopy the game board onto a transparency sheet, and use 1" Post-It notes to cover each answer box on the board. Remove the appropriate Post-It as a student asks for it (e.g., "I'll take Bananas for 500"). Be sure to lead a brief discussion on the topic after each answer/question is done.

  • This game is easily customized to any topic or subtopic. Simply draw/type a similar grid game board with your own answers/questions, and then photocopy it onto a transparency sheet.

  1. A Supermarket Field Trip (source: Oxfam Canada)

  • Break the class up into groups of no more than six, and each team goes to a different section of a supermarket or produce market with one facilitator per group.

  • Walk through the aisles, picking out pre-determined items and talking about them in a trade context. E.g., GMO foods for issues like labeling and exports, coffee/tea/hot chocolate/bananas for fair trade, fruit/vegetables for issues like 'eating local vs. international' and 'monoculture growing' and 'raw vs. processed importing tariffs' and 'pesticide/fertilizer use'.

  • Make it participative by asking your group what the issues are with a particular food before informing them. Encourage discussion, and even ask if they have any sections of the supermarket that they think the group should go to.

  • This activity must be cleared with the supermarket owner first! Stress that you're not protestors, that there'll be no leafleting, that it's school-approved, and that there'll only be five (or whatever) groups of seven people per group, all in separate areas of the store, and only for 45 minutes.

  • Of course, this activity works best if the site/school is a short walk from the supermarket.

  1. Whiteboard Flowcharting

  • This exercise has one or two facilitators drawing a flowchart on the whiteboard, based on student answers to questions posed by the facilitators. The goal is to end up with a visual diagram of the interactions between various issues. The chart's contents can vary with the specific topic discussed, but we will give an example of how food security relates to globalization.

    What You Say

    What You Draw

      1. Explain that up until fifty years ago, farmers around the world tended to grow the crops they wanted to eat, and enough extra to sell for the things they needed. Then science and farming mixed to create this thing called the Green Revolution [Q. What was this?], where it was shown that you can produce huge yields by just focusing on a single crop (e.g., corn, coffee, rice, sugar, bananas) and using lots of chemical fertilizer and irrigation.


    yields up

      1. This indeed brought yields up (more food produced). Poor countries rushed into monoculture growing, resulting in [Q. in what?] more food to sell and export, and thus more income to the farmers and poor countries. Monoculture is thus also known as cash crops.

    yields up  more export, more $

      1. But this had some bad side effects on the farmland. [Q. What side effects?][Modify the flowchart sequence based on answers.] One was that monoculture drains the soil of nutrients. Rotating to different crops each year was a common practice to keep the soil healthy.

    monoculture weakened soil

      1. Over the years, this brought the yield down. It also decreased the soil's resistance to weeds.

    monoculture weakened soil yields down  more pests & weeds  yields further down (circle)

      1. [Q. So what did farmers do to bring the yields back up?] They used more chemical fertilizer, pesticides, and herbicides.

    yields up

      1. But this also brought some bad news. [Q. What bad news?]

     more fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides costs more money  less profit

     fertilizers are short & harsh nutrients  soil gets weaker, and can only grow thereafter with increasingly stronger amounts of fertilizer  more money (circle)

     pesticides are indiscriminant, killing insects and (through the food chain) birds that are otherwise helpful to the land and the crops  soil gets weaker (circle)

      1. Farmers are also encouraged to use more big farm machinery to get better yields. [Q. What effects does this have?]

    buy expensive farm equipment

     less profits

     farmers in poor countries become tied into foreign-controlled technologies & businesses  loss of self control over farming industry

      1. After farmers around the world had become caught in this cycle, the producers of fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides raised their prices. [Q. What effects would this have?]

    higher prices for fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides  farmers had even less profit  some farmers couldn't afford enough fert/pest/herbicides  yields stayed low

      1. Around the same time this was happening, so many poor countries had been encouraged to grow cash crops for export to the first world countries that there was now a surplus on the world market. [Q. What does this cause?] This causes prices to drop. (Side point: note that it is the poor countries growing the raw materials at low profits, and the rich countries producing the processed products like chemical fertilizers at high profits.

    world surpluses  prices drop  profits less (circle)

      1. [Q. How does this all affect the financial balance between the first world/industrial countries and the third world/developing countries?] The already developed countries get stronger economically (paying less for food and making more profit on exported fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides), while the developing countries get weaker economically.

    rich richer, poor poorer (circle)

      1. [Q. What happens when the farmers can't sell enough crops to pay their fert/pest/insecticide costs?] This quickly gets to the point where farmers can't afford to farm. [Q. So what can they do?] They have to sell their farms (or often lose them completely to debts), usually to large farming businesses with ties to first world farming industries ('agrobusinesses')  more control of the poor countries' economies gets transferred to the first world businesses

    can't afford to farm

     sell or lose farms to agrobusinesses

      1. [Q. How does this all affect the financial balance between the first world/industrial countries and the third world/developing countries?] This results in more control of the poor countries' economies being transferred to the first world businesses.

     first world controls more (circle)

      1. [Q. So what happens to the farmers after selling their farms?] Often the farmers become hired workers of the agrobusinesses. [Q. Why is this bad?] Now they get very low pay (due to the surplus of available workers and the increased use of machinery) and they don't have their own crops anymore to feed their families.

     hired workers  lower pay, no food to eat

      1. Farmers and their families often have no choice but to leave the countryside completely and move to the cities, looking for employment and food. Often they can't find either due to overcrowded cities. [Q. What does this lead to?] This leads to unemployment, slums, poor health, and violence. All are drains on the social and economic systems of the country.

    move to cities

     unemployment slums  poor health and violence  drains on social and economic systems

      1. The country is now trying to keep up its exports while having higher social and economic costs. It is increasingly having its choices directed by the big agrobusinesses that own more and more of the farmland. [Q. Why is this such a bad thing?] These businesses are often foreign controlled. The poor countries end up making economic decisions based on what is best for the transnational agrobusinesses and not their own economy. Once again, the first world's control over the poor countries increases. The poor countries become low class workers forced to stay at that level so that the first world countries can keep their low food imports and high processed-material exports. (Optionally, at this point, you can get into how first world countries set high tariffs on processed foods and goods, to keep their dominance on these higher-profit markets.}

    country's choices directed by agrobusinesses' needs

     making decisions to improve the agrobusinesses, not the country

     first world controls more (circle)

      1. (Optionally, you can also bring up another path when farmers lose their land. They cut down rainforest, usually illegally, and plant crops. But rainforest soil is a delicate balance formed over thousands of years. Just 10-20 years of cattle grazing, for example, can completely destroy that land which once held hundreds of tree varieties, so that it now only holds two or three types of low brush.) (This can lead to an environmental flowchart if desired.)

  • At this point, you can move to another whiteboard and say that this all sounds pretty gloomy. What can be done to get the poor countries out of this dead end? Bring up solutions like
    (a) The first world (WTO, World Bank, IMF) can better control world industries to avoid giant surpluses.
    (b) The first world can drop tariffs (import taxes) on processed foods, allowing poor countries to develop food industries beyond simple farming (diversity and higher profits).
    (c) Farmers can return to the model of many small family-owned farms producing multiple foods, and rotating crops. This reduces need for chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides, while also ensuring that farmers not growing enough to sell will at least have some food to eat. Many first-world non-governmental agencies are involved in training farmers in sustainable agricultural practices.
    (d) First world agrobusinesses must recognize that the big picture requires thinking beyond increasing their profits at all costs. It requires thinking beyond "we have to answer to our stockholders". And the stockholders in turn have to realize the same. Many multinational businesses are now making decisions to improve farmers' situations based on pressure put on them by some of their own socially responsible stockholders. You and your parents can support such socially responsible investing (SRIs).
    (e) Organize a group of students to have your school adopt a no-sweatshops buying policy. Pressure on manufacturers of clothing and sports equipment to provide healthy environments and fair wages to workers will help strengthen the countries providing those products, giving them alternative economies to cash crops.
    (f) Organize a group of students to commit your school cafeteria, and/or nearby coffee shops, to sell at least one regular fair-trade brand of coffee, tea, and hot chocolate.
    (g) Don't underestimate the power of writing letters, both individually and by starting up campaigns to do so. Target the PM, your own MPs, the ministers responsible for the areas you'd like change in, and corporations themselves.

  • When discussing what YOU can do specifically, discuss the common feeling of "It's hopeless, we're just a few against the powerful." Give Margaret Mead's quote:" Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." And then discuss who you're up against: governments and corporations. The governments are supposed to be driven by the people, but the unofficial rule is that the loudest people count the most – ask who that group is. Answer: corporations, since they pay millions to lobby governments heavily. They also donate to governments heavily, both officially and under the table. Whose policy would you support if you were the government? The one a bunch of individual voters ask for, or the one asked for by the people who keep your party financially afloat and in power? Conclusion: Canadians don't have as 'true' a democracy as we like to think. We allow corporations to control the government by allowing such lobbying and donations. Solution: get those letters going to put a cap on (or stop completely) corporate donations to political parties. And we can't stop lobbying, as a valued part of our democracy, but we can have caps put on it so that the rich corporations don't overcome the voices of the people.

  • Final conclusion: end on a high note of taking positive action individually and together.

If you have feedback or additional activities, please contact Terry Newcombe (terrynew@sympatico.ca).

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