Voices

The rise of child activists

2019-11-04 23:17

Greta Thunberg evokes what is called “a marmite response” from people – you either love her or you hate her.

The teenage climate crisis activist evokes a particularly strong reaction in predominantly middle-aged white men (who are probably choking on their coffee as they read this).

You can fling all the shade, vitriol and hate speech you want at her, but there is no denying that, just under 18 months ago, the then 15-year-old kick-started a global movement that has roused millions of people in 71 countries.

Last year, after a record heatwave sparked deadly forest fires that spread from Sweden to the Arctic, Thunberg decided to go on a school strike until the Swedish national elections.

On her first day, she was a lone figure on the parliamentary steps.

The next day, she was joined by other teenagers. After that, she was never alone.

This year, equally lauded and vilified for her stance on the climate emergency, she received a Nobel peace prize nomination.

Not too shabby for a 16-year-old.

It is interesting to note that her climate strike was inspired by students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland in Florida, US, who walked out of classes in protest against the US gun laws that played a part in leading to a massacre at their school.

Joshua Wong
Joshua Wong, appeared on a Time cover when he was identified as the “leader” of the 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong

Like Thunberg, this group of teenagers made it on to the cover of Time magazine.

They’re in good company as they join Joshua Wong, who appeared on a Time cover when he was identified as the “leader” of the 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong.

He was just 17.

These Generation Zs are proving to be a force to be reckoned with, and big business better take note.

Their social justice barometer is highly tuned and they commit wholeheartedly to causes they believe in.

As the first generation of digital natives – those born into a totally connected world of smartphones and the internet – they wield these resources like weapons, whether it’s to find information, disseminate it or simply rally support for a cause.

I say that big business had better take note because this generation is now coming of age, so they are not just your new customer, but also your new workforce.

If your brand does not stand up to their scrutiny in terms of values beyond shareholder primacy, they are certainly not going to buy your products, let alone work for your company.

And if, as a business owner, you need to be further convinced about how radically different the next-generation customer is, let me introduce you to a seven-year-old who kick-started a plastic war with McDonald’s.

In 2017, William Weir wrote to the global fast food giant about his concerns regarding the plastic toys handed out with the chain’s Happy Meal.

Concern about environmental damage is reaching a remarkably young audience. Unsurprisingly, Weir was brushed aside.

Last year, two sisters continued the crusade. Ella and Caitlin McEwan, aged nine and seven, respectively, also wrote to McDonald’s about their concerns regarding the toys.

They tried to hand-deliver their letter to the corporation’s headquarters in the UK, but were also brushed aside.

Undeterred, they started a petition on Change.org, which gradually scaled.

More than 330 000 signatures later, the cause was featured in the documentary The War on Plastic, in which McDonald’s was named and shamed.

McDonald’s quickly tweeted a statement that not only apologised for the way it had treated the sisters when they tried to hand over their letter, but pledged that, “in the UK over the next six months, our Happy Meal promotions will include a mixture of board games, books and soft toys – which will see an almost 60% reduction in the number of hard plastic toys given away in comparison to the first half of the year”.

If two seven-year-olds and one nine-year-old can change the policy of a global fast food corporation, big businesses had better sit up and take note.

A rival of McDonald’s – Burger King – certainly did. It quickly announced that it would also remove all plastic toys from the meals for kids.

Then Burger King went one step further and announced a “plastic toy amnesty”, inviting people to drop their plastic toys at Burger King outlets.

These would then be melted down and recycled.

Still unconvinced? Then watch out for American six-year-old Vivian Lord, who wrote to toy maker BMC after noticing that the army toy set she received only had male figurines.

“Why do you not make girl army men?” she asked. “My friend’s mom is in the army too!”

Dodging an identity politics bullet, the company has promised that plastic troops modelled after women would be “deployed next year in time for Christmas”.

Cynics would say that parents have instigated this wave of child activism, but, either way, big corporations are learning that you can’t ignore “juvenile” opinions.

These young people have access to information and knowledge far beyond their years, and they will call you out and then take you down.

You have been warned.

Dion Chang is the founder of Flux Trends. For more trends, visit fluxtrends.com


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November 17 2019