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Teachers: Citizenship: Globalisation Economic

Last Updated: Wednesday March 02 2005 11:55 GMT

How fair is international trade?

Citizenship 11-14/KS3/Levels E&F
Economic Globalisation


How fair is international trade?

A new deal to help poor families around the world has suffered a setback after talks being held in Mexico were called off.

This resource focuses on the way in which international trade works.

Students rig a set of rules, then investigate a multinational.

This activity needs class internet access

Learning aims

  • Rules can be rigged to produce different results.
  • The power held by a transnational corporations and the choices this brings.


    Bending the rules

    Look at the Highway Code.
    Ask students: What is its purpose? To make the roads as safe as possible for everyone?

    Ask students to rework part of the Highway Code with a different purpose. They will aim to keep traffic moving as fast as possible. For example, a minimum speed limit instead of a maximum limit.

    Students should:

  • Design a set of road signs to support the new rules.
  • List five knock-on effects that the new rules might have.
  • List two people who would like these rules.
  • List two people who would not like these new rules.

    Ask the class:

  • What do we know about the fairness of rules?
  • What are the risks if powerful people make up the rules for trade? Prompt: Rig them in their own favour, they behave unfairly.
  • How can we make sure the rules of trade are fair?Prompt: Let everyone get involved in making them, have a referee.

    Main activity

    Farmers need a fair price
    What are transnational corporations?

    Explain that a transnational corporation is an enterprise with activities in two or more countries with an ability to influence others. (UN definition).

    Find out about a TNC

    Working in pairs students carry out research. Using the Internet and other sources they produce a short presentation on the work and potential influence of a named TNC.

    Use the following questions as a start:

  • Which brands or companies does the corporation own?
  • In which countries does the corporation operate?
  • How much annual profit did the corporation publish in its latest financial report?
  • What does the corporation say about its concern for issues such as the environment and development?
  • What can be learnt about the power held by a transnational corporation?
  • How might this power be used or abused?


  • Nestlé
  • Unilever
  • Cadbury-Schweppes
  • BP-Amoco

    These are all good examples as their web sites provide much of this information.

    Be aware that some corporations present very limited information - the class could discuss possible reasons for this.

    Extension activity

    Ask students to look up the UN Human Development Report on or in an atlas.

    Compare the Gross National Product (GNP) of a range of countries, such as the Philippines, the UK, the USA, Tanzania and Peru, with the profits of these transnational companies.


    Bring the pairs together to share their results.

    Can they agree on how powerful TNC's were?

    How could shoppers influence trade rules?

    Teachers' Background

    International trade is worth £6 million a minute and growing fast, it has great power and can have a huge impact to improve or ruin the lives of millions of people.

    International trade rules are agreed through the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

    Most countries are members and in theory all share in the negotiations equally. However, while a rich country like Japan can pay 25 people to work at the WTO headquarters in Geneva all year round, many poor countries cannot afford to have any representatives at all.

    TNCs are huge companies that operate in several countries. Many are much richer than entire countries in the less developed world. Such companies can provide work and enrich a country's economy - or they can exploit the workers with low pay and destroy the environment.

    There are few rules to set standards for the behaviour of TNCs - and the governments of poor countries do not have the power or will to prevent exploitation.

    For hundreds more news based lessons, click on Teachers on the left hand side.

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