Teaching Workers’ Rights Using Harry Potter

My friend and colleague at Warwick, Dr. Alison Struthers, is a leading expert on human rights education. She also practices what she preaches. She teaches primary school aged children about human rights. A few weeks ago she asked me if I would teach a class of 9-10 year olds about a human rights topic. I have been researching labour standards in trade agreements and global supply chains intensively for the last year. So that is the topic I chose. But then I had to figure out how to make it interesting for such a young audience.

Ali’s idea was that we started off with a children’s book. Is there an engaging children’s book about labour standards? It was obvious to my 10 year old daughter:

“Tell them about Dobby the House Elf in the Harry Potter Books” she said to me.

So at 10 O’clock this morning I was nervously showing a group of primary school children this video of Dobby meeting Harry Potter in the Chamber of Secrets film. And then reading extracts of the book, trying to imitate Dobby’s squeaky voice.

The children were amazing. They listened carefully and picked up on the terrible treatment Dobby received at the hands of his masters, the Malfoys. They understood that he was enslaved and this meant he could not leave and get another job. They picked up on his terrible clothes and the fact that he did not have enough food to eat.

And then we discussed how many workers in the real world suffer forced labour and do not get paid a ‘living wage’. We talked about campaigns to help them. We looked at (and later ate!) chocolate bars with Fair Trade and Rainbow Alliance logos on, and explored what these schemes can do for workers around the globe, and what their limitations are.

After my depression at election results this week, it made me hopeful again. There are plenty of young people out there who want to learn about the situation of people less fortunate than themselves, who empathise strongly, and who want to know what they can do to help. We just have to work on their adult leaders now…..