Ethos Education

Captain Phillips: How do the actions of rich countries and ordinary people who live in them impact on the lives of people in poor countries?

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Learning Objectives:

  • Understanding of Christian perspectives on the uses and responsibilities of wealth.
  • Awareness of different causes of poverty.
  • Awareness of different consequences of poverty.
  • Consideration of who should take responsibility for the poor.
  • Detailed knowledge of one Christian individual or organisation working to alleviate world poverty, and how Christian belief motivates that work.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Reflect upon the wide-reaching implications of the simplest of actions that they might make.
  • Analyse a film clip to see different perspectives on the relationship of rich and poor nations.
  • Analyse the extent to which our consumer choices have an impact on people in other parts of the world.
  • Reflect on the extent to which individuals should consider the effect on other people when making consumer choices.
  • Analyse Bible passages to determine Christian perspectives on global trade issues.
  • Analyse the Foundation Principles of the organisation Traidcraft as an example of a Christian response to poverty and trade injustice.
  • Synthesise learning by writing a letter.


Explain that you want to start the lesson by thinking about who is affected by our actions. Write a simple action on the board – for example, ‘buying a bar of chocolate’. Ask the students to think about who might be affected if they were to carry this action out. Some possible answers might include:

  • You.
  • Someone else (if you were buying the chocolate for someone else).
  • The shopkeeper, who receives your money.
  • The wholesaler who the shopkeeper bought the chocolate from.
  • The company that made the chocolate bar and sold it to the wholesaler.
  • The farmers who produced the ingredients that went into the chocolate bar.
  • Individual employees of any companies referred to above.

If students try to argue that the wholesaler or others at earlier stages in the commercial chain have already been paid, remind them that sales of products make it more likely that the shopkeeper will restock, buying more of whatever products are selling well and not replacing lines that sell slowly.

Explain that in today’s lesson you are going to be thinking about how the actions of rich, developed countries like ours can have an influence – for good or ill – on poorer countries in other parts of the world.


Introduce the clip from the film Captain Phillips (Sony, 2013, certificate 15). Click here to buy the DVD online.

Explain that Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) has been taken prisoner by Somali pirates. In this scene he tries to convince his kidnappers that his country is active in trying to help the Somalis. Ask the students to pay attention to what Phillips and Muse (Barkhad Abdi) each have to say about the relationship between America and Somalia.

  • Start time: 1.03.18 (in chapter 9 of the DVD)
  • End time: 1.07.28
  • Clip length: 4 minutes and 10 seconds

The clip starts with a shot of the lifeboat at night. The first line is Muse saying (with subtitles), ‘Hufan, do you read me?’ into his radio. The last line is Muse saying, ‘Yeah, we’re all fishermen’. If you want a shorter clip, start at 1.06.04, with a shot of the lifeboat on the sea in daylight. The first line of the shorter clip is one of the pirates saying (with subtitles), ‘Give me some khat’.

Ask the students whether Phillips and Muse seem to agree about the influence of America on Somalia. Remind the students of Phillips’ claim that his boat was carrying Aid packages for African nations, including Somalia, and of Muse’s response that boats from rich countries catch all the fish in Somali waters, leaving nothing for local fishermen like himself to catch. Ask how much thought the students give to whether the products they buy (not necessarily just fish) result in a good or bad effect on people from poorer countries.

Ask the students whether they have ever thought about where the things that they buy in the shops come from. Ask whether they would buy a chocolate bar if they knew that the people growing the cocoa beans were living in poverty with inadequate sanitary facilities? Would they buy a pair of trainers if they knew that someone else had to work in a sweat shop to make them? If the students say ‘no’ to any of these questions, ask whether they do anything to find out about how the products they do buy have been sourced. Do they think that such research should be expected of someone who wants to be a responsible global citizen?

Ask the students why anybody should care about how their actions affect other people anyway. How do they feel about the argument that when we buy cheap goods in a shop, all we are doing is getting a good deal – we’re not responsible for the low wages of the people in another country making those goods, or for the conditions in which other people live.

Ask the students how they would expect a Christian to respond to your previous argument. In small groups, ask the students to look up the following Bible passages and to write a short summary of how a Christian might respond.

Deuteronomy 15:1-11; Proverbs 28:27-28; Proverbs 31:8-9; Isaiah 58:6-10; Amos 8:4-7; Luke 10:25-37.

Ask if any of the students are familiar with the organisation Traidcraft. Explain that Traidcraft is a fair trade organisation which was set up by Christians in 1979 as a response to the injustices of global trade. Give out copies of Traidcraft’s guiding Principles, which you can find at the following webpage:

In particular, draw the students’ attention to the sections headed ‘Traidcraft is a Christian response to poverty’. How does this compare with what the students expected from an organisation with Christian roots? Was there anything in the principles which surprised students? Were they surprised positively or negatively?


As a final exercise, which could be set as homework, ask the students to write a letter to one of the following: a politician; the manager of the local supermarket; an ordinary person living in Africa; a Somali pirate. The letter should outline the students’ views on the subject of ethical shopping, and also demonstrate an understanding of Christian perspectives on the subject (although students are free to disagree with that perspective). The letter should either call on the recipient to change their actions, or explain what the student intends to do regarding their consumer choices, or both.


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