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Teenagers managing oil palm plantations

Following last year’s success, on 15 March 2017, two classes of Le Lycée Français de Zürich came to ETH Zürich to play the CoPalCam game, focused on Cameroon’s oil palm supply chain. In each half-day session, the students, aged 15-18 years old, were split into two ‘valleys’, taking on the roles of small growers, truck rental, industrial mill and artisanal mill.

For the first time, we introduced in the model the issue of labor conditions in the plantations, something that was not previously contemplated and that is an emerging discussion in the round-tables on sustainable oil palm production. The rules were simple: a player short on cash could keep his kids in the plantation, reducing costs as a result, for as long as the kids were not in school. This was shown by placing a red token in the plantation. We saw students revert to this strategy to make ends meet. We saw other players, and the teachers observing the process, develop arguments to reduce this practice, trying to convince those doing it to stop, but in vain. And we saw how signals sent by consumer at the end of the supply chain reversed the trend. Once the buyers unequivocally informed they would stop sourcing oil palm from plantations that had child labor, the response was immediate and all kids were soon sent back to school.

This led to a very interesting discussions on what drives change in a system, what is the liberty of action of the producers, and the responsibility of the consumers at the far end of the supply chain.

Reading the statements from the teachers and students after the game shows that the experience was again both fun and instructive for them.

The OPAL Project is funded by:
Project Consortium:

Oil Palm Adaptive Landscapes (OPAL)
c/o Prof. Jaboury Ghazoul
Chair of Ecosystem Management
Department of Environmental System Sciences
ETH Zurich
Universitätstrasse 16
8092 Zürich

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