Published in the Fall 2007 issue • Newsflash
Continued from page 1
Kiwi juice: Some very Shameless reasons to love New Zealand
It’s a great day when two 17-year-old girls can bring down a corporate giant. That’s what happened earlier this year in New Zealand: two high-school students took a juice company to task for misleading the public.
Three years ago, Anna Devathasan and Jenny Chuo (who were 14 at the time) tested the amount of vitamin C in their favourite juices for a school science project. One of their subjects was Ribena, a blackcurrant drink that boasted four times more vitamin C than orange juice. But the girls’ results showed differently: Ribena had no detectable amount of vitamin C whatsoever.
When the girls took their concerns to the company — owned by international pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline — they were ignored. “They kind of didn’t take us very seriously, because we were 14 at the time,” Chuo told a reporter. “We were really little.”
But the Commerce Commission was more helpful. In March, GlaxoSmithKline pleaded guilty to 15 charges, paid almost $200,000 in fines and was forced to launch a major ad campaign apologizing to the public.
The girls became instant stars. Devathasan told a reporter: “I love it. Every time I see the new Ribena ad, the one where they don’t mention any vitamin C, I’m just like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s me.’”
The story doesn’t end there. When I went looking for what’s happened to Devathasan and Chuo since spring, I found something else about the girls — and New Zealand — that was more shameless than I’d expected.
This past July, Devathasan and Chuo were both part of Youth Parliament 2007, an event that gets youth involved in democracy by participating in real government. Over four days, 121 youth MPs debated policy and questioned cabinet ministers, people from across the country voted on what topics the youth MPs would debate and a youth press gallery reported on the proceedings. An international panel of observers from eight countries also showed up to study how to engage youth in democracy.
The youth delegates were a diverse group: 60 percent women, with Maori, Pacific, South and East Asian representation and one hearing-impaired youth MP. Planned by the Ministry of Youth Development and the Minister of Youth Affairs, Youth Parliament is held about every four years.
Ministry of Youth Development? According to the ministry’s website, its purpose is to “encourage and assist the involvement of young people in the social, educational, economic and cultural development of New Zealand, both locally and nationally.” Funny, when Stephen Harper talks about youth, it’s usually gang violence, apathy and social degeneration.