American fast food giant commercialises the right to education

KFC is a transnational company originating in America, and like many other food chains it has outlets all over the globe. It should be expected that whilst taking into consideration local culture of all its host countries, that the company should uphold the morals that glue together the democratic society from which it originates, and if not promote them, then at least not go against them.

Whilst travelling in Swaziland in December, I was (somewhat guiltily) indulging myself with some Kentucky fried chicken in the middle of the Ezulwini valley, an area of the country containing some of the poorest as well as some of the richest of Swazi’s (as one of the King’s palaces and the main governmental buildings are housed here between the stick and mud townships). As I left the establishment I nearly saw my meal in reverse as I viewed the above advertisement in front of me: ‘WIN one year’s public school fees with KFC’. I stopped, paused and took pictures as proof of what I thought at the time must be a joke. How could an American company be using the right to education as a means of louring poor families into spending their limited funds on extortionately priced junk food with the hope of winning a raffle with school fees as a prize? My fiancé wondered why I had turned an extraordinary shade of green and stopped in my tracks blocking the doorway through which floods of local families entered and exited the establishment. I explained to him my horror regarding the ‘contest’ and his reply was something along the lines of “at least someone wins right?”.

Wrong. Not that I have to say that often to him, but this time… wrong. In a country where 69% of people live on less than $1 a day, it is morally wrong to aim a competition at these very people who would have to save for over a week just to buy the meal to qualify for entry. Worse still, this means that the small percentage of people who can afford the fees are more likely to be entrants and the so called good will is lost. School fees are a constant burden on the minds of parents in the beautiful kingdom, as they know that it is a possible route out of poverty for their children, who like any parent desperately wish better for their children in live than what they have experienced themselves. If the multi-million profit making Cornel of the chicken industry really wanted make a difference to the communities of Swaziland he would use some of his profit to provide scholarship schemes, teaching programs and to help improve infrastructure to enhance the lives of more than just 21 ‘lucky’ children, and for more than just one year.

What happens after that year? The parents still cannot afford the fees and the child has to drop out of school and live a life wondering what could have been. A simple more effective way big businesses could help get more working class Swazi children into education would be by starting initiatives to make uniforms more affordable. Out of Swazi parents I have spoken too, even if they could afford the school fees, the cost of the compulsory uniform on top if far too much to comprehend. Some local people feel that this is a way of filtering the ‘lower’ class out of the system, in a country where the rich-poor gap is ever growing, and social mobility is a none existent pipe dream for most. KFC is promoting school as a privilege to be won, not a human right, and furthermore are facilitating this view and making education for all seem further out of reach for those who need it most.

The Swazi Observer has announced the first three ‘lucky’ winners who were drawn from a ‘bucket’ (I bet it was a ‘bargain bucket’ – I hope at least it was family sized and unused so not to leave hopeful entrants stuck down in the dirt) earlier this month. The paper assured that it would “make sure the competition is transparent and fair”, not really fair to those who can’t afford the ‘streetwise 2 and Pepsi meal bundle’ that are left outside learning how to survive on the streets. As one blogger commented: “While in other countries it might have been a competition to win a car or an iPhone, in Swaziland school fees are where it is at”, and although the blog was naively praising the contest*, this statement actually sums it up; KFC are devaluing education to the price of a commodity that the west take for granted, and with it feeding false hope to a nation of people that deserve more.

To take another KFC advertisement tag line; “it’s all about lifestyle” and if this is the kind of lifestyle brand KFC choose to promote, a lifestyle where education is a raffle and not a right, then I am withdrawing my cash from the Cornel’s cash register.

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