The UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, Farida Shaheed, in a report submitted to the UN General Assembly, has raised concern about the growing presence of marketing and advertising in schools. “Schools should be considered as a distinct cultural space, deserving special protection from commercial influence,” she stressed.
In the Report, the Special Rapporteur explains:
"Schoolchildren offer a captive and credulous audience. Companies see school based marketing and advertising as perfectly suited to ‘branding’ children at an early age. Marketing and advertising programmes are normalised and given legitimacy when embedded in the school context; the strategies deployed lead children to interact and engage with particular brands during school time.”
She warns that advertising in the school setting may have deleterious effects on the right to education, including educational freedom and quality education:“sponsoring of school material and educational content reduces the freedom educational institutions have for developing the most appropriate and highest-quality curriculum for their students”.
The Special Rapporteur concludes by recommending that States “ban all commercial advertising and marketing in public and private schools and ensure that curricular are independent from commercial interests”.
Paragraphs relevant to the right to education are quoted below. Access the full report (A/69/286): http://www.ohchr.org/EN/newyork/Pages/HRreportstothe69thsessionGA.aspx
B. Advertising, children and education
2. Advertising in schools
63. Most international human rights standards and national laws on education place a legal obligation on children to attend school. Schools therefore constitute a distinct cultural space, deserving special protection from commercial influence.
64. The growing presence of advertising in schools is documented. Numerous examples exist of company logos appearing on school materials, including textbooks and educational material, as well as on school premises; company logos as the central focus of sponsored lessons; television in schools providing “educational content” with advertising; shows by characters representing brands; vending machines or coffee bars occupying school space to sell and promote particular brands and/or products; contests organized by banks; sponsorship of school buses, sports fields or school names; branded road safety material; incentive programmes with supermarkets offering vouchers for school laptops or cameras; school fund-raising strategies encouraging families to enter into commercial relations with companies that donate to schools; exclusive agreements granting a company exclusive rights to provide a service and/or product; the recruitment of schoolchildren to serve as brand ambassadors and so on. The Special Rapporteur considers school premises as encompassing not only the school itself, including cafeterias, libraries, playgrounds and sports facilities, but also their immediate vicinity, as well as school buses.
65. Schoolchildren offer a captive and credulous audience. Companies see school based marketing and advertising as perfectly suited to “branding” children at an early age. Marketing and advertising programmes are normalized and given legitimacy when embedded in the school context; the strategies deployed lead children to interact and engage with particular brands during school time. Furthermore, the sponsoring of school material and educational content reduces the freedom educational institutions have for developing the most appropriate and highest-quality curriculum for their students.
66. Advertising in schools remains unregulated in many countries (see the responses of Chile, Guatemala, Paraguay, Qatar, Togo, Uganda, and the Defensor del Pueblo, Plurinational State of Bolivia). Some States (Greece, France, Serbia and Slovakia) prohibit or limit advertising in public schools on the basis of the principles of neutrality, purpose of the institution and child protection (see also the response of the National Human Rights Committee of Qatar). Others, including Algeria, prohibit all advertising for commercial purposes, but the dividing line between commercial and non-commercial messaging remains unclear. Some States, including El Salvador, have intervened to stop situations that have gone beyond what seems reasonable; in others, such as Finland, parents have the right to decide the kind of marketing permissible in schools, with a strict prohibition against disseminating pupils’ contacts for marketing purposes. In other situations, sponsoring is allowed, but the material cannot contain product marketing. WHO, for its part, recommends that children not be exposed to any form of marketing of foods high in saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, free sugars or salt, in particular when they are in schools and on playgrounds.
67. Even when restrictions on advertising are in place, difficulties or loopholes in implementation arise from general legal provisions that require localized implementation by municipalities or school boards that are sometimes unaware of the regulations. Difficulties in interpretation of the law may also emerge (see the response of Slovakia).
68. For States, local authorities and parents, opposing advertising and marketing in schools can be difficult. In some contexts, this may impede the ability to secure sufficient funds to construct and/or maintain school infrastructure, provide pupils with books, lunches or teachers, organize outdoors activities and games and so on. Economic recession and cuts in budgets increase the pressure on authorities, who are then more likely to resort to negotiating agreements with companies. There are also numerous cases, however, of schools authorizing advertising and marketing practices on their premises without deriving significant or, indeed, any, financial gain as a result.
69. The Special Rapporteur stresses that private sponsorship can indeed help in securing funds needed for the effective functioning of schools. This should not, however, result in advertising and marketing materials or activities entering school premises or being targeted at children. The Special Rapporteur is of the view that companies may still advertise the fact that they sponsor schools, but should do so outside schools. The only exception to this may be when specific materials, such as computers or musical instruments bearing logos or brands of the companies producing them, are donated to schools (known as manufacturers’ or distributors’ primary consumer product package labels).
70. Taking into consideration article 13 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which refers to the minimum educational standards as may be laid down or approved by the State, the Special Rapporteur considers that the prohibition of advertising should be applied in both public and private schools.
3. Advertising in universities
71. Commercial advertising and marketing in universities is similar to such activities in schools but raise different issues, as young adults are deemed to have sufficient levels of awareness and critical thinking. Most country responses indicated that, as independent bodies, universities may regulate advertising and marketing according to internal codes (see the responses of Bolivia (Plurinational State of) Brazil, Finland, France, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Portugal, Serbia, Togo and Uganda). Universities very rarely seem to prohibit some forms of advertising.
72. Universities are spaces where students should learn to develop a spirit of enquiry and free thinking. Hence, authorities should ensure that advertising and marketing on university campuses remain clearly distinguishable and within reasonable limits, and that the best interests of students and the academic community remain paramount.
73. Literature indicates that university-business agreements may include conditionality, such as “non-disparagement clauses”, prohibiting members of the university community from criticizing the company involved. Such restrictions on the right to the freedom of expression of students and academics should not be tolerated.
74. The promotion of specific products and services through the sponsorship of academic research is a growing trend. It can take the form of sponsorship of departments and professorships and commissioning of academic studies that are tantamount to market research. The Special Rapporteur considers that some criteria need to be established to prevent conflicts of interest, and to guarantee academic freedom and the rights of students to information and an education.
75. Of specific concern is the sponsoring of university textbooks and attempts to influence their content, for example in medical sciences. Such sponsorship should be made fully transparent so that students may consider their textbooks with a critical eye and seek access to other sources of information.