A Study of Classism in Thriller Films – A Process Paper

How we chose our topic

The topic of classism has always fascinated our group; coming from different backgrounds, different schools, and different socio-economic levels, we were curious as to whether the perception of other, foreign nations on the issue of social inequality and wealth mattered as little as it did in Singapore. 

How we conducted our research

To do that, we decided on the use of movies and documentaries, and agreed to make our own documentary at the end. For research, we would watch three movies in particular: Us (2019), Joker (2019), and Parasite (2019). These three movies were decided on due to their wide variety: Us is set in the modern-day USA, and follows a small American family; Joker takes place in 1981 and follows one man in particular as he struggles to deal with society around him; and Parasite discovers the true divide between rich and poor, and what happens when they are forced together.

With this in mind, we watched the three movies on three separate occasions, to ensure that our minds would be fresh, and took notes during the screening.

Process of how we created and developed our documentary

Firstly, we had to understand the significance of classism, decide on the basis of comparison and discuss how to showcase our understanding of classism in films in the most effective manner. Eventually we decided on a documentary to illustrate how symbolism is used in all three films to show classism and the differences in types of classism portrayed in the three different movies and their impact on presenting classism as a whole. 

We chose to do the documentary because we felt that there was no better way to share our thoughts but to showcase it through the same medium these filmmakers have utilised. By doing so, it allowed us to better understand what these filmmakers were thinking and was also a more interesting manner of showcasing our idea which helps in capturing our audience’s attention.

Secondly, we had to plan out how the documentary is going to be executed before we can start production as well as coming up with the comparative analysis which is crucial as it is the backbone of our documentary. We attempted to do a storyboard and kept researching by studying relevant media. We had many trials and errors but luckily under the guidance of our Capstone project supervisor – Mr Jared Goh, we were able to come up with a storyboard and our comparative analysis. Next, we had to fit our ideas in our comparative analysis into our storyboard and organise it in a minute by minute breakdown format so as to showcase our thoughts in a more efficient manner and improve production quality. After we were all satisfied with the content in our minute by minute breakdown and having a clear direction of what to produce, we proceeded with production. Production of the documentary was tough because of technical issues, copyright issues and more etc. Fortunately, we never gave up as we were passionate about our topic and finished it after putting in our best effort.

 Overall, it was an enjoyable and manageable process of creating and  developing our documentary as we had divided our work evenly by playing to each team member’s strengths, proper time management and our passion sustained us throughout the journey as we believe in shedding light on classism and promote these films as a bonus.

How it relates to annual theme: Identity and Diversity

To understand how it relates to identity and diversity, it is important to know and understand the definition of classism which is the prejudice and discrimination towards a certain class usually due to social attitudes and government polices that are set up to disadvantage lower classes. Classism is one of the most problematic ideologies prevalent in today’s society as the lower and middle class are the majority of the world’s population while the higher, wealthier class are the minority, and they benefit from the disadvantage of the majority. One’s social class reflects not only the material conditions of people’s lives, but also helps to shape cultural practices and behaviours. This then creates cultural identities among the respective social classes, and these identities are then rooted in subjective perception of the social class ranking. Therefore, it is evident that classism has shaped the identities of many in the world across time. Hence, symbolism is effective as it showcases and reinforces this overarching idea and theme of classism in shaping our identities in one way or another. Diversity comes in when classism is viewed through different lenses, hence different perspectives are shown in the three different films illustrating the different types of classism happening in different parts of the world, and their impact on presenting classism as a whole. 

Overall, it is through exploring and understanding the different perspectives portrayed by different films that we are able to cross refer and better crystallise our understanding of this complex problem of classism and how it shapes our identities and way of life. Hence, our project also illustrates the importance of identity and diversity in helping us understand ourselves and the world we live in.



Classism in America: Definition & Examples – Study.comhttps://study.com › Courses › Social Science Courses

Athena Kronenburg (21-O1)

Bryan Lim (21-O1)

Hew Juin Yu (21-O1)

Elton Lim (21-O1)

Ng Wen Hui (21-O1)

Shannon Sim (21-O1)

How and to what extent have the Korean Narratives of Beauty diffused in Singapore?



This study encompasses the analysis of cultural diffusion of South Korean beauty to Singapore as influenced by the forces of globalisation, focusing on cultural adoption and adaptation by Singapore’s youth. However, diffusion does not necessitate homogeneity and commodification, and may instead result in heterogeneity and cultural hybridity. Hence, this research expounds on how and to what extent Korean narratives of beauty have diffused into Singapore.

Literature Review & Conceptual Framework


Beauty is a broad notion with differing interpretations, but there are three key distinctions in definitions presented within academia.

Firstly, some scholars posit that beauty is an individual, intrinsic judgement (Santayana, 1995), while others argue for the collective: Yan and Bissell (2014) suggest beauty is ‘more a result of editorial rooms’, indicating that it is a dynamic social construct influenced by agents of culture including the media. This is corroborated by Carlock and Russell’s postulation (2015) that beauty notions ‘evolve as trends valued by society’s elite change’. However, individual and collective perceptions should not be seen as mutually exclusive and examining this interplay would be valuable.

Secondly, certain scholars limit their definition of beauty to visual, physical bodily attractiveness (Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English (English-Chinese), 2000), which presents too narrow an interpretation. Others include both outer and inner beauty involving the senses, intellect and moral faculty (Corbett, 2008). Regarding the distinction between outer and inner beauty, philosophers such as Plotinus have questioned whether they share a common ‘antecedental ground’, or if ‘embodied’ beauty and ‘bodiless’ beauty are independent (Anton, 1964). In the South Korean context, Gelézeau (2015) affirms the former interpretation, presenting physical appearance as a manifestation of moral transformation, intertwining outer and inner beauty.

Thirdly, scholars such as Anton (2015) distinguish aesthetic beauty from moral values as perceptions of beauty are ‘ultimately irrational’ while moral judgements are based on utility. Conversely, others assert that beauty is correlated with moral duty and a ‘manifestation of the good’ (Santayana, 2015). In South Korea’s context, Gelézeau (2015) introduces a paradox between Confucian philosophy sinche palbu (the absolute integrity of the whole body) and the emergence of an infatuation with aesthetics, positing that physical appearance reflects social etiquette, due to the belief in harmony of body, heart and spirit.

One consensus is that beauty has a significant influence on one’s social standing (Santayana, 1955). Gelézeau (2015) affirms this in South Korea’s context, where belonging to a ‘miyŏng hawui kyegŭp (“cosmetic underclass”) risks one’s social wellbeing.

Culture and Globalisation

Culture is another widely contested concept with varying interpretations across space and time. Even so, one major interpretation in academia is that cultures are dynamic rather than static, as ‘systems of shared meanings often based around ideas about ‘place’ (such as religion, language and ethnicity) that can exist on a number of differential spatial scales’ (Daniels, 2008).

Several debates in academia have centred around the process of globalisation and its influence on cultural diffusion (Appadurai, 1990; Daniels, 2008). Some scholars propose that there seems to be cultural homogenisation driven mostly by transculturation, leading to profoundly asymmetric power relations and the commodification of culture as products for consumption in the global market, resulting in a dilution of local culture (Daniels, 2008). However, other scholars have argued that homogenisation oversimplifies the new global cultural economy (Appadurai, 1990), instead positing that there has been cultural heterogenisation by placing emphasis on how agents of cultural diffusion, such as transnational corporations (TNCs) and global brands, reinterpret culture locally and contribute to glocalisation (Daniels, 2008; Appadurai, 1990). Nevertheless, heterogenisation may fail to account for the realities of former colonies with deeply entrenched Eurocentric influences, causing a form of cultural mixing that more closely resembles that of homogenisation (Daniels, 2008).

Appadurai (1990) reiterates this tension between these contesting theories, but also challenges the assumption that cultural homogenisation is only driven by Americanisation, and provides a multi-dimensional framework to understand the new global cultural economy that is complex and overlapping, and has disjunctures. He establishes five dimensions key to this understanding of global cultural flow: firstly, the ethnoscape encompasses social groups who alter culture for their own means due to their varying socio-identities, contradicting the cultural homogenisation-heterogenisation binary; secondly, the mediascape; thirdly, the technoscape is concerned with variations in the level of, and nature of technology that enables or impedes cultural diffusion; fourthly, the ideoscape including the fetishisation of beauty explained by the Marxist argument of commodification; fifthly, the finanscape.

Conceptual Framework

Much research surrounding the cultural diffusion of beauty narratives has focused on Americanisation, with few or no studies exploring the cultural diffusion of Korean beauty narratives in the South East Asian context, especially to Singapore. Such inquiry might be valuable, not only due to the popularity of Korean beauty in retail stores and in cyberspace, but also due to Singapore’s historical and present diasporic and diverse society that is arguably more heterogeneous than South Korea.


This project employs both quantitative and qualitative data collection methods to investigate the notions of Korean beauty and its diffusion, regarding consumption patterns and adaptation of products in Singapore.

Fieldwork was conducted in Korea, utilising quantitative street surveys (Annexes A and B). Transects along Korea’s main shopping streets of Myeongdong, Ewha University Shopping Street and Dongdaemun were selected where we surveyed 10 female respondents. This allowed us to identify a widely-subscribed-to set of Korean beauty ideals. Due to time constraints, our sample size was limited both in scale and in gender representation.

Next, fieldwork was conducted in Singapore, consisting of qualitative personal interviews (7 interviewees) and qualitative online surveys (90 respondents), drawing from respondents aged between 15-24, over two weeks (Annexes C and D). This data provides insights into how locals perceive and respond to Korean beauty. However, to limit risks of community transmission of Covid-19, we had to rely on respondents from our own contacts, lowering our data’s gender and racial representativeness.

Empirical Findings

1.     Cultural Diffusion of Korean Beauty

Forces of globalisation drive the large scale of cultural diffusion of Korean beauty into Singapore. This is supported by Appadurai’s concept of the technoscape, where cultural diffusion is facilitated by technological advancements in communications (Appadurai, 1990). Media, as part of the technoscape that transcends spatial boundaries, is a significant channel for transnational flow, directly engaging with youths in particular, subconsciously shaping their impressionable notions of beauty via pervasive exposure to the Internet. Consumers’ perceptions of beauty are thus shaped by firms’ advertisements and product offerings in cyberspace. The prominence of Korea’s cultural diffusion through the media was cited to be ‘influential in shaping youth culture in Singapore’ (Fig. 1). This sentiment is further echoed amongst youths we interviewed, stating that ‘subliminal messages in the media [influences] the adoption of Korean beauty standards’ (Fig. 1).

 ‘On a scale of 1-5, with 1 being the least and 5 being the most, I would say Korean beauty is maybe a 3 or 4 in terms of its influence in Singapore … it’s all these subliminal messages in the media that influence the adoption of Korean beauty standards in a very subtle way … it could have a really great impact in the future too, since Korean culture is so influential in terms of shaping youth culture in Singapore. I think one reason why it’s been so deeply entrenched is because it’s a very unassuming part of culture so people don’t really think about the implications of Korean beauty on the way they perceive the world. By consuming Korean culture, you’re also kind of buying into this lifestyle or worldview that they’re trying to sell …’ (Interview with Singaporean Students on Exchange , November 2019 ).

Fig. 1

Additionally, Singapore’s geographical proximity to South Korea is a driving force. According to Appadurais’s theory of the technoscape, globalisation eases transport and communication processes through aiding time-space compression, facilitating the operational expansion of Korean TNCs to Singapore (Appadurai, 1990). This is further reinforced by Singapore’s close economic cooperation with South Korea, according to Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, thus welcoming Korean TNCs. Through the consumption of Korean cultural products, Singaporean youths also ‘[buy] into the lifestyle [and] worldview’ of Korean beauty culture, promoting its diffusion.

2.     Transculturation: Similarities Between Singapore and South Korea’s Ethnoscapes and Ideoscapes

Besides considering spatial factors, similar temporal-historical contexts also expedite the diffusion of South Korean beauty standards to Singapore. Both nations converge as they are former colonies. According to our interview respondents, the influence of colonial legacies have led to the emergence of similarities in pre-existing Sino-centric and Euro-centric beauty elements, thus fostering a sense of familiarity amongst Singaporeans towards these cultural beauty standards (Fig. 2).

 ‘Some of it has to do with the Korean wave and the commodification of Korean media or the proliferation of Korean beauty. But I don’t think it’s entirely the fault of the Korean wave. Singapore already has very similar Panasian, Eurocentric beauty standards like fair skin so I suppose the Korean wave merely intensified or reinforced elements of beauty that were already present in Singapore …’ (Respondent F, Interview with Singapore Students, January 2020)

Fig. 2

This phenomenon is termed a ‘postcolonial hangover’ and illustrates the residual impacts of Western colonialism in contemporary times—a plausible factor that allows for Korean beauty products and practices to suitably cater to audiences in both countries. Typical Western notions of beauty—pale skin, big eyes with double eyelids, a high nose bridge—manifest in what is deemed ‘local’ Singaporean culture as a result of post-colonial hangover (Tan, 2020). Hence, the present pursuit of such standards in both Singapore and Korea signifies that transculturation has occurred.

Intensified Sino-centric beauty standards in Singapore can be due to the Chinese demographic majority, which possesses genetic similarity with Koreans, allowing Korean beauty products to be highly suitable for and catered towards East Asian features. The geographical proximity of China and South Korea may also have led to Sinocentric and Korean beauty ideals being similar.

In addition, Confucianism is the ideological foundation of both Singapore and South Korea. According to Appadurai’s ideoscape, both societies adopt collectivist ideologies, which encourages the desire to blend in and conform, unlike in Western nations where individualism is championed (Tan, 2013; Kim, 2003). Moreover, referencing the Confucian philosophy of sinche palbu, there exists a preference for natural enhancement, such that beauty is not for one’s individual expression in the construction of personal identities, but as a form of respect for society, as it is a channel through which visual presentability is reached (Gelézeau, 2015). Physical appearance then becomes a question of social etiquette, even of moral duty (Gelézeau, 2015).

Therefore, the transnational flow of Korean beauty does not radically change existing standards in Singapore, but reinforces and intensifies pre-existing ones instead.

3.     Cultural Heterogenisation and Glocalisation of Korean Beauty

Our findings align closely with Daniels’s argument (2008) for cultural heterogenisation, rather than complete homogenisation. However, they show that the alteration of Korean beauty in Singapore results from an interplay of individual, state and TNC actions, instead of individuals alone.

Glocalisation occurs when TNCs adjust products distributed globally, to accommodate local and regional specifications (Grigorescu & Zaif, 2017). Korean TNCs in the beauty industry have conducted market analysis to define their consumer base and modified cosmetics to increase appeal in different locales. This is supported by interviewees who have mentioned cosmetic products that cater to darker skin tones in Singapore’s multiracial context, which are less commonly found in Korea due to differences in the countries’ ethnic demographic (Fig. 3 and 4).

Fig 3: Etude House’s Darker Foundation Shades for Malaysia and Singapore (r/Asian Beauty, n.d)

 ‘I think some brands try to cater to darker skin people in Singapore by making darker foundation shades such as Etude House, but they do not provide super diverse ranges and not all their products can be used by Malays and Indians …’(Respondent C, Interviews with Singapore Students, January 2020).

Fig. 4

The process of glocalisation thus contests Daniels’ argument that cultural alteration results solely from individuals, as TNCs shape cultural diffusion and adoption (Daniels, 2008).

While glocalisation partially catalyses cultural diffusion of Korean beauty to Singapore, individuals ultimately play an active role in choosing to accept or resist attempts by TNCs. Korean beauty is unable to diffuse without cultural alteration due to unique traits of the locale, thus undergoing cultural adaptation (Daniels, 2008). Correspondingly, empirical data shows that Singapore’s ethnic demographic is an impediment against full, direct diffusion. Interviewees cite Korean cosmetic products that cater almost exclusively to fairer complexions, rendering Singaporeans with darker skin tones unable to adopt Korean beauty as it is incompatible with traits of the locale (Fig. 5).

 ‘In the first place, my skin colour and ethnic background fundamentally means that I can’t use Korean beauty products. It’s just simply unattainable …’ (Respondent F, Interviews with Singapore Students, January 2020, my emphasis). 

Fig. 5

In response, individuals actively adapt and selectively customise elements of Korean beauty, such as skincare regimens and lip products, to cater to their needs and features such as skincare regimens and lip products. They do so by mixing Korean cosmetics with those of other cultures, such as America (Fig. 6).

 ‘Like for my foundations, I tend to use American Brand’s as they have more range regarding my darker skin tone. For Asian makeup I tend to use lip and other products as they are more subtle and contribute to my everyday look … in terms of foundation and concealers, Korean products don’t completely match. That’s why I tend to mix Korean makeup with American makeup to fit my face in order to form my own style …’ (Respondent G, Interviews with Singapore Students, January 2020, my emphasis).

Fig. 6

This occurs as individuals attempt to contest for power and resist homogenisation attempts by TNCs that drive globalisation and cultural diffusion. This is corroborated by Appadurai’s conception of ethnoscapes, where individuals adapt culture for their own means due to their social identities, disproving the notion of homogenisation (Appadurai, 1990). Cultural adaptation is therefore a means for Singaporeans to assert their varying social identities, giving rise to cultural heterogenisation.

Furthermore, individuals are conditioned by specially local social norms, which predispose them to reluctance towards adopting certain Korean beauty practices. Our interviewees have stated that expressions of beauty typically considered gender-subversive or avant-garde are regulated in conservative Singapore, especially in institutionalised spaces of schools and workplaces, owing to dominant societal beliefs of pragmatism. Conversely, Korean society seems more accepting of different beauty expressions, such as effeminate Korean males, due to the influence of the media which presents the feminisation of beauty in its popular culture far more than in Singapore (Fig. 7).

 ‘Social norms in Korea are also different where especially for girls, looks are of a higher priority where it gives them a higher chance of standing out. Due to the growing Kpop industry, many people dream to be idols and looks are something that is heavily emphasised in that industry. Thus, many people mimic idols’ beauty standards. In Singapore it’s kind of different, because beauty is not seen as practical and thus not really valued by society. Singaporeans are also more academically inclined where beauty standards are not as emphasised in schools …’ (Respondent C, Interviews with Singapore Students, January 2020, our emphasis).

Fig. 7

Furthermore, in Korea, beauty is a tool to elevate socio-economic standing, stemming from the belief that physical appearance reflects moral worth and respect in the public sphere (Gelézeau, 2015). Conversely, Singapore’s meritocratic system emphasises academic qualification instead. Differing social norms, further reinforced by state regulation, thus dampen the adoption of Korean beauty by Singaporean youths with reservations about adapting Korean culture to suit localised conditions. However, there are little to no concerted efforts to resist cultural diffusion, deviating from the adaptation-resistance binary introduced by Daniels (2008). This receptiveness or neutrality towards the diffusion of Korean beauty allows for cultural hybridity as opposed to a ‘melting pot’ or ‘mosaic’ beauty culture in Singapore.


As a dynamic and contested concept, Korean beauty is a confluence of individual and collective judgement, with firms and consumers continuously influencing each other’s perceptions. Korean beauty in Singapore also encompasses outer and inner beauty, with physical appearance being a form of social etiquette, although to a lesser extent than South Korea.

Overall, in Singapore, cultural homogenisation and cultural heterogenisation should not be seen as dichotomous, but rather simultaneous processes which continuously shape and reshape the notions of Korean beauty.


We would like to express our utmost gratitude towards Ms Clara Ang for having patiently guided us through every step of the research process.

Ho Yu Hao (19-O1)
Kelly Hooy Chui Ting (19-O1)
Marie Leo Kai Xin (19-O1)
Rachel Eng Li Wen (19-O1)
Desiree Chia Shi Min (19-U1)

Understanding the Maori Identity



When I was a child, a visit to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds and Te Kōngahu Museum of Waitangi in the Bay of Islands was an experience that I would never forget. The beautiful architecture and stunning performances engraved a picture of joyous harmony into my mind, and I left Auckland with the impression that the Māori were proud and embraced in their own society. Ten years later, upon further research, I realized that I could not be more wrong.

My rose-tinted vision of the Māori identity in New Zealand was shattered as I perused through articles pointing to disparities in health, education, media and even jail time. Even after writing this paper, it still astounds me how my experience at the Grounds covered up my perception of the difficulties local Māori face in society.

Therefore, this paper serves to provide advocacy for the indigenous Māori peoples in New Zealand, pointing out the impact of ethnic suppression. This paper also aims to draw more attention to the issue, calling for action to assist Auckland in forming better policies that improve Māori representation. 


The Māori identity is a widely debated topic that can be primarily defined as a conflict between the traditional Māori and the white Pākehā. Durie (1994) states that communities have chosen to identify as culturally Māori, bicultural, or marginalized. In spite of these definitions, the government still faces difficulties in understanding the Māori culture so as to create better support systems for these historically repressed indigenous peoples. The Māori currently rank low in health (New Zealand Ministry of Health, 2003), high in criminal offending (Cram, Pihama, Karehana, & McCreanor, 1999; New Zealand Department of Corrections, 2005), and low in education (Hohepa & Jenkins, 2004). Therefore, to reduce inequalities in such areas, policymakers need to understand the cultural factors behind these three societal sectors, as well as how the three different communities function as a larger whole. 

Understanding stakeholders

The Māori

Much of Māori history is grounded in warfare, but the roots of the downfall of the marginalized people are embedded in the Musket Wars, where the introduction of European technology caused vicious in-fighting between rival kin groups. In the concluding years of the war, warfare gave way to economic rivalry. Due to the widespread bloodshed, the Musket Wars were a central factor in the British colonization of New Zealand in 1840 (New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage, 2015). The Treaty of Waitangi, signed in 1940, has gradually grown in influence following the formation of the Waitangi Tribunal in 1975. Later, a policy of ‘biculturalism’ adopted in the 1970s provided the Māori with the legally recognized right to self-determination as a people, and equality with Pākehā in society (Awatere, 1984; Chadwick, 1998; Hazlehurst, 1993; Poata-Smith, 1997a, 1997b, 2004). Various pieces of legislation in New Zealand now oblige government officials to ensure that Māori rights to cultural, social and economic equality are promoted through the work of state institutions (Houkaman & Sibley, 2010).

The New Zealand Government

Historically, the government has had little interaction or discussion with the Māori before implementing policies. The government established both the Waitangi Tribunal and the Fiscal Envelope with little or tokenistic consultation with Māori. An approach like this can result in recurring accusations of unfairness because one party clearly has more power when equality is needed for fair and enduring settlements (Mulholland, M., 2018).


The combination of social stigma against the Māori has culminated in several social impacts, beginning with the adoption of Māori children in Māori- Pākehā or Pākehā marriages. Out of the numerous impacts of social stigma, this impact is the most significant because it alienates an entire generation of Māori children from their ethnic heritage. According to A Question of Adoption, in 1965, the Department of Social Welfare admitted that ‘adoption of Māori children is a big and constant headache’. Socially, Māori children ranked at the bottom of the adoption ladder, and worse, to Pākehā social workers, any legal placement with strangers organized via Social Welfare appeared preferable to allowing the baby to go to Māori kin (Else, 1991).

However, it has been proved that Māori culture is important for Māori well-being. It could be that enculturation trumps feelings of connectedness with other Māori people in terms of driving positive health outcomes. Alternatively, perhaps Māori who have close relationships with their whanau and marae will also tend to have greater access to social support and economic resources, which should lead to higher levels of educational achievement (Houkaman & Sibley, 2010). Māori who feel comfortable speaking Te Reo are more likely to feel comfortable with interventions that incorporate Māori cultural concepts, supporting the analysis of health interventions that report high participation rates and acceptability within Māori communities (Beasely et al., 1993; Broughton, 1995; Edwards, McManus & McCreanor, Tipene Leach & Abel, 2004). 

Current Frameworks Under Discussion

There are four current models and frameworks that explain the Māori identity: The Royal Commission on Social Policy (1988), Rose Pere’s (1988) six elements of Māori identity, the Te Hoe Nuku Roa assessment of Māori identity (Durie, 1995) as well as the Multi-Dimensional Model of Māori Identity and Cultural Engagement (MMM-ICE) (Houkaman & Sibley, 2010).

The Royal Commission on Social Policy

The Royal Commission on Social Policy (1988) bases its policies off a four-pillared approach to highlight the most significant aspects of Māori cultural identity (Nga Pou Mana). These comprise (1) whatnaungatanga (family cohesion), (2) taonga tuku iho (cultural inheritance), (3) te ao turoa (the environment), and (4) turangawaewae (security). The Commission called for the establishment of a Senate divided between Māori and non-Māori, as well as official biculturalism. Today, the establishment of a political Māori front has not been upheld, and there seems to be little to no support for a second House. However, the adoption of a Mixed Member Proportional electoral system has increased Māori seats from four in 1988 to seven in 2018 (Webcoordinator@msd.govt.nz, n.d). The Māori Language Act (1987) gave official language status to the Māori language. Later in 2016, the Act would recognize that the Māori language is the foundation of Māori culture and identity, with two separate initiatives to revitalize the Māori language (The Māori Language Act 2016, n.d.).

Rose Pere’s six elements of Māori identity

Māori educationalist, Rose Pere, illustrates the following six elements as part of the Māori identity.

  1. A relationship with the land (which provides a sense of belonging)
  2. Spirituality (which provides a sense of meaning, connection and purpose)
  3. Ancient ties (which provide ancestral-based wisdom and appropriate guidelines for living)
  4. Tikanga Māori (customs which carry values and cultural practices unique to Māori people)
  5. Kinship ties (which carry obligations to contribute to the well-being of the family and extended family)
  6. A sense of humanity (which involves a sense of belonging to a wider community)

Te Hoe Nuku Roa assessment of Māori identity

The Te Hoe Nuku Roa Māori Profiles, a longitudinal Māori household project with a focus on Māori development in cultural, social and economic terms, providing a model for the interaction between Māori knowledge and mainstream social science practices and demonstrates how Māori knowledge and the Western scientific tradition can be used together to resolve critical failings in previous research and advance the aspirations of Māori people (Forster, 2008).

Multi-Dimensional Model of Māori Identity and Cultural Engagement (MMM-ICE)

The MMM-ICE is intended to be an indigenous measure appropriate for Māori. The model goes beyond enculturation or knowledge of Māori cultural features and Māori cultural engagement to incorporate subjective feelings of being a group member, attitudes, group allegiances, as well as collective identification and role-related self-perceptions, political attitudes and beliefs (Houkaman & Sibley, 2010).

Drawing parallels between Auckland and Singapore

At the root of the problem, the Maori identity is a social issue that needs to be solved before the fracture between such communities grow even wider and threatens other sectors of society, such as the financial or political sectors. Even though there are more Maori in important seats in Parliament, there is a lack of respect for this culture on the ground amongst the people. 

An example of a society that has managed to promote not only racial tolerance but racial harmony, is Singapore. The Singaporean population is ethnically and racially diverse, and most Singaporeans embrace different cultural heritages. Instead of pushing each other away due to their inherent differences, they choose to embrace each other’s unique traits to develop a unified Singaporean identity. 

Auckland’s social climate now is a prime example of the impacts of communal suppression. Had our founding fathers not taken steps to improve relations between racial groups, the Chinese population would dominate far more positions in Parliament and business—not to mention increasing hostility between groups in our everyday lives. 

As citizens of a racially harmonious and accepting society, Singaporeans have the moral responsibility to assist New Zealand in developing ways to create a better environment that betters the plight of the modern-day Maori. Rather than feeling pity or sympathizing with them, more should be done to let others know of the impact racial suppression has on the minority group. Prominent media outlets, such as Channel NewsAsia as well as The Straits Times, need to intensify the coverage on minority groups like the Maori, drawing awareness to such groups and inciting social change. 


The issue of the Māori identity being at risk is a problem that some Singaporeans may face. Although the largest Chinese population is rather content with the preservation of their culture and language, other minority groups such as the Minangkabau, Tai, and Javanese people face difficulty reconciling the traditions taught to them with daily life today. The parallels drawn between New Zealand and Singapore are the suppression of the indigenous people, as well as the initial efforts put forward by the governments in trying to address this issue. However, while Singapore has been largely successful and has taken a pro-active step with a Malay President, the impacts of New Zealand’s imposed policies are still fairly limited. 

This paper serves to argue that policymakers should consult the expertise of Māori leaders and people in order to understand their needs and concerns to diminish the social inequality between the Māori and the Pākehā. Journalist Aaron Smale comments that, “At the first day of the hui to consult on the terms of reference for the new Royal Commission, there was a panel of nine survivors. Of them, only one was a Māori man. When I pointed this out and how it was problematic given the majority of state wards were Māori boys, I was met with a chilly silence.” 

Rather than a generalised approach that the government has taken up so far, this paper seeks to point out three important mediums in which the government can better improve, empower and sustain the Māori, revealing a list of social benefits that will not only help the country improve but also help to create a uniform identity as people of the land. 

Action Recommended

A three-pronged framework, coming in from the health, media and education industry, seeks to improve, empower and sustain the Māori. This plan assists the Māori community by improving the current living standards of the people. The Te Hoe Nuku Roa has reported a link between higher Māori identity scores and positive health and educational outcomes as measured by the framework (Durie et al., 1999). As such, the betterment of current health standards in Māori-populated areas is needed to further improve their lifestyles. Next, the media industry needs to adopt not a policy of tolerance, but rather a policy of harmonious identity. This can be best achieved through the Te Pae Tawhiti, a new media industry group. Finally, in order to perpetuate the paradigm shift in society towards embracing the Māori identity as a part of Aucklanders’ way of life, the next generation will need to be taught the ways of the Māori. However, rather than a indoctrination of Māori ideals into the current landscape, the next generation will need to adopt mindsets that the Pākehā and Māori can coexist in a mutually beneficial, harmonious society. 


Rather than trying to solve the problem, the framework tries to draw more attention to rising disparity between the Māori and the Pākehā. Therefore, this paper serves to act as a call to action, drawing awareness to the issue at hand. Although Singapore’s slightly removed presence from the Maori issue may cause some to hesitate, the prevalence of the disintegrating Maori identity strikes us as an issue the world must pay attention to—before the cultural heritage of another indigenous group is stamped out.


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  10. Edwards, S., McManus, V. & McCreanor, T. (2005). Collaborative research with Māori and sensitive issues: the application of tikanga and kaupapa in research on Māori Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Social Policy Journal of New Zealand, 25, 88-104.
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Celeste Koh (18-I4)

Combating Fake News in Singapore’s Youth Population: Challenges and Solutions



Fake news is not a new phenomenon. However, the unprecedented speed and volume of its propagation is great cause for concern. The digitisation and subsequent democratisation of the media landscape has allowed actors such as foreign governments and radical fringe ideologues to have a far easier time disseminating information.

For the purposes of this paper, fake news will be characterised as news articles that are intentionally and verifiably false and could mislead readers. This definition is the most reflective of the current phenomenon and is widely agreed upon by academics (Allcott & Gentzkow, 2017; Chadwick 2017). This paper will address responses to fake news with regard to young people.

Young people were chosen based on three key considerations. Firstly, this generation of people are digital natives, and their lives will be shaped disproportionately compared to other groups by technology, technology which has been used to spread fake news. Secondly, it is important they in particular recognise and be equipped to deal with fake news, given that they are extremely impressionable and many habits and important concepts are ingrained at this age. Thirdly, this also means that this group can be better inoculated against such fake news, allowing policy makers to adopt a preventative rather than reactive approach in dealing with fake news.

Inadequacies of Fact-Checking

Human Factors

Fact-checking, at its most basic level, simply seeks to flag out content with questionable truth value, seen in Facebook’s implementation of tags that label possible fake news articles as disputed, but with many going further to refute given claims through providing counterfactuals backed by more reliable sources, seen in organisations such as Factcheck.org and Politico. Fact-checking is currently the most widely employed means of countering fake news, used by various actors from government, to grassroots-based organisations and technology companies. 

Fact-checking is a highly problematic means of countering fake news. Firstly, fact-checking is undercut by innate human cognitive tendencies. Humans have the tendency to simply accept information when presented with it, forming beliefs, and even when presented with opposing information, will still continue to retain their belief (Anderson, Lepper & Ross, 1980). This is known as belief perseverance. In fact, individuals are likely to reject information that conflicts with their existing beliefs and cling to those beliefs even more tightly (Silverman, 2017; Romm, 2014; Nyhan & Reifler, 2006). This is the backfire effect. Thus, individuals who are exposed to fake news and buy into fake news often persist in their beliefs, which may even be strengthened when presented with corrective information.

This means that dislodging information from a person’s brain is far more difficult than getting them to accept it in the first place, and that the effort that fact-checkers spend on disproving a claim is disproportionate to the effort put into creating the claim (Gilbert, Krul & Malone, 1990). Donald Trump can simply assert that the Iran Deal would allow Iran to continue making nuclear weapons (‘Remarks by President Trump and President Buhari’, 2018), but the fact-checkers have to painstakingly go through the deal, explain the specific context and nuances that makes that statement misleading and cross-reference it to other reliable sources to convince people otherwise (Rizzo, 2018). The time it takes for a fact-check can take as little as 15 to 30 minutes, but typically it takes much longer for more elaborate claims, up to 1 to 2 days (Hassan, Hamilton, Li & Adair, 2015). This makes fact-checking an extremely labour- and time-intensive process.

Technical Factors

Fact-checking organisations are often operate on an extremely small scale with lean budgets and personnel counts. Snopes, a highly reputable and established fact-checking organisation only hires 17 staff. 26 out of 42 fact-checking organisations that met at the 2017 Global fact-checking summit operated on budgets below $100,000 (Kessler, 2018). This lack of resources, compounded by the fact that fact-checking is a highly labour-intensive process as discussed earlier, means that the ability of these organisations to identify and counter false information is seriously undermined.

Despite the advances in machine learning and the development of Automated Fact-Checking (AFC) technology, the efficacy of such technology is still highly questionable. This is due to the complex nature of fake news, where information is not just simply presented in discrete packets, but rather paints a whole picture and lies along a gradient of truthfulness, and also due to the complexities in the language used to communicate the news. Many of these programmes work by recognising recurring patterns in the fake news content. Training these systems to identify fake news requires feeding a large volume of such content into the system in order for it to recognise and pick out patterns. AFCs are often unable to be trained well because of the lack of training data which is vetted and compiled by human fact-checkers.

Furthermore, utilising pattern recognition to identify fake news is still far from sufficient because the AFC cannot take into consideration the context and nuances of the language used – aspects that are key to distinguishing fake news (Brookes, 2018). AFCs thus have no genuine understanding of what fake news is, which renders them ineffective. Given that AFCs lack such sensitivity, they end up highly dependent on human operators, which means that the limitations of manual fact-checking that AFCs sought to overcome still persist.

Even if AFCs did possess a firm grasp on the language, another problem is the lack of a database to cross-refer information to. As Chengkai Li, a professor and one of the creators of ClaimBuster, a fact-checking software, puts it, “The big challenge is the lack of data sources. Understanding the claim and formulating the query and sending the query to the source, that’s one challenge. But another challenge is the lack of authoritative and comprehensive data. It’s not just about the technical solutions, it’s about the lack of data quality” (Hassan, Li, Arslan & Tremayne, 2017). This is extremely important because fact-checking cannot be done in a vacuum, because the validity of information can only be ascertained in the presence of other sources. This means that AFCs are only as good as their database, a database which still lacking in many areas.

In conclusion, fact-checking as solution is limited in feasibility because of its inherently labour-intensive nature and attempts to automate it have run into serious and difficult problems. Fact-checking as an approach is also fundamentally problematic due to its reactive nature and human psychological inclinations.

Preventative Approaches Taken in Singapore

Therefore, a preventative approach should be adopted as it is able to circumvent the problems posed by fact-checking. One such preventative approach that is currently in use is media literacy education.

While the government acknowledges the importance of media literacy, Singapore has done surprisingly little to augment media literacy education to combat fake news. Currently media literacy education places a focus on cyber wellness, which highlights the risks and dangers of digital spaces while encouraging individuals to adopt responsible practices. The Media Literacy Council (MLC), a public education and engagement initiative by the government that provides resources that include advice on combating cyberbullying, online safety, dealing with “trolls”[1]and dealing with screen addiction. This lack of emphasis of on critical media reading skills is also made abundantly clear from their stated objectives, where critical evaluation and interpretation of media is overshadowed by objectives geared towards cyber wellness, with 4 out of the 5 objectives targeting the latter (Media Literacy Council, n.d).

While no official media literacy education exists in schools, many of the relevant skills are taught informally through other subjects. For example, one of the objectives of the English Syllabus is to empower students to “read between the lines and view for implied meanings, analyse the underlying meaning of visual messages, offer interpretive judgment, and question and evaluate what is read from a variety of sources, including the writers’ intentions/assumptions and soundness of the argument,” which is a key aspect of media literacy education (Ministry of Education, 2010). Similarly, the social studies and history curriculum make use of source-based case study (SBCS) questions to test students’ ability to understand and analyse sources, requiring them to discern the reliability, utility and purpose of sources through cross referencing. The ability to judge the reliability of a source and infer its agenda is highly valued for media literacy (Ministry of Education, 2016; Ministry of Education, 2017).

Yet, despite these educational efforts, a recent 2017 survey conducted by the IPSOS showed that while 79% of Singaporeans felt that they were somewhat confident in identifying fake news, 91% wrongly identified one headline as real when showed 5 fake news articles. A significant proportion (55%) of young people aged 15 to 24 also had the experience of erroneously believing fake news (Ng, 2018). This shows that media literacy skills of Singaporeans still leave much to be desired.

This may be due to how the media literacy skills taught in schools are not introduced explicitly as such and are always couched in the school context, being taught as skills to score on their English Paper 2 or to do their SBCSs. As such, students may not see those media literacy skills taught in school as transferable to the context of their day-to-day media consumption, and end up not applying these skills.

Another reason which contributes to students not applying the skills in a real-world context could be the manner information is presented. In social studies or history, a full set of sources is presented together, making it easier to carry out cross-referencing, compared to fake news, where only the article in question is shown and students need to seek out their own reliable sources.

Even when students want to apply these media literacy skills, they often run into difficulty doing so. The analysis of sources in SBCSs is often carried out by students with some grasp of the contextual knowledge taught by the syllabus relevant to the source, which helps them make judgements about it. Students looking a piece of 1930s Nazi Propaganda in their SBCS would have been aware of the context of Hitler vying for power during this period and this would have informed their judgment of the source. However, more often than not, those reading fake news may not have the relevant knowledge to make those judgments, especially since the nature of news implies that it is usually new information. Students reading an article from the Institute of Historical Review (IHR) would generally find it a trustworthy source, if not for the fact that it is an organisation flagged by the Auschwitz Holocaust Museum, the Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC), and various other credible historical journals for having an anti-semitic holocaust-denying agenda, a fact that many are unfortunately unaware of (‘The Institute of Historical Review’,n.d; Southern Poverty Law Centre, n.d).


Therefore, to remedy the problems, I propose the creation of a media literacy curriculum to be taught in schools at every educational level. There are two parts to this: the first part concerns itself with educating students to be discerning about media and journalism in general, while the second deals specifically with digital literacy, teaching students to be discerning in the specific context of digital media.

For the first prong, media literacy education should be revamped to shift away from its current focus on cyber wellness as advocated by the MLC, and instead stress the dangers of fake news and the skills required to counter misinformation, giving students a more balanced view of media literacy. The educational outcomes of the curriculum should be as such:

  • Recognise the difference between journalism and other kinds of information and between journalists and other information purveyors;
  • In the context of journalism, recognise the difference between news and opinion;
  • In the context of news stories, analyse the difference between assertion and verification and between evidence and inference;
  • Evaluate and deconstruct news reports across all news media platforms, based on the quality of evidence presented and the reliability of sources;
  • Distinguish between news media bias and audience bias.

These are the skills and competencies deemed important by the Center for News Literacy, which has successfully run media literacy programmes in 30 countries to shape students into informed discerning citizens equipped with the tools to recognise and critically consume media (‘What is News Literacy?’,n.d).

This curriculum should also make use of inoculation theory to pre-emptively debunk commonly spread false information (Compton, Jackson & Dimmock, 2016). Two key aspects underline the inoculation process: the presentation of threats to current beliefs and values, and the refutational preemption. The presentation of threats warns them of impending challenges to their beliefs and motivates students to protect them. Studies demonstrate that even forewarnings of such nature make people less receptive to persuasion. The refutational preemption works by exposing people to weaker versions of arguments which equips them with the tools to debunk more persuasive versions of the arguments in the future, much like how vaccines function by introducing weakened viruses into the body such that antibodies are built up which protect the body when the virus is encountered again (Goh, Soon, 2017). By going through the process of rebutting these arguments that challenge their beliefs, students will have the opportunities to defend and thereby strengthen their beliefs, making them more ready to refute and reject these arguments in future. An example of this would be students being taught about the impacts of climate change and then warned about fake news which promotes climate change denial, and then presented with information which refutes these claims.

The second part empowers students with the tools to address the unique problems posed by fake news in the context of digital media. Even if students are equipped with the skills to discern fake from genuine news, many skills can only be put into practice with specific knowledge about digital media, because as mentioned earlier, source analysis is heavily reliant on contextual knowledge. One can only make an accurate assessment of a source’s agenda if there is knowledge about the source in the first place. This formal digital information would aim to equip students with specialised knowledge about digital media that would help them in judging media they encounter online, such as:

  • Identifying website domains and gauging credibility with that information;
  • Learning how to access website source code and gauging credibility with that information;
  • Learning about the use of various fact-checking sites and search engines to spot fake information;
  • Learning how to use reverse image searches and various other relevant software to identify doctored images or videos.


In an age where anyone anywhere with internet access can become not simply a passive consumer but an active producer of media, the floodgates have been opened for online falsehoods. Given the various inadequacies of stop-gap short-term measures, a careful long-term approach must be adopted to inoculate our youth to resist the influence of such news. However, this only targeted at youth, which leaves large swathes of our population vulnerable to such falsehoods. Further recommendations and research could be carried out to investigate means of countering fake news within Singapore’s population beyond schooling age.


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  2. (n.d.). The Institute for Historical Review. Retrieved November 28, 2018, from http://auschwitz.org/en/history/holocaust-denial/the-institute-for-historical-review
  3. (n.d.). What Is News Literacy? – Center for News Literacy. Retrieved November 28, 2018, from https://www.centerfornewsliteracy.org/what-is-news-literacy/
  4. (2010) English Language Syllabus 2010 – MOE. Retrieved November 28, 2018, from https://www.moe.gov.sg/docs/default-source/document/education/syllabuses/english-language-and-literature/files/english-primary-secondary-express-normal-academic.pdf
  5. (2016). Social Studies Syllabus – MOE. Retrieved November 28, 2018, from https://www.moe.gov.sg/docs/default-source/document/education/syllabuses/humanities/files/2016-social-studies-(upper-secondary-express-normal-(academic)-syllabus.pdf.
  6. (2017). History Syllabus – MOE. Retrieved November 28, 2018, from https://www.moe.gov.sg/docs/default-source/document/education/syllabuses/humanities/files/2017-history-(lower-secondary)-syllabus.pdf
  7. (2018, April 30). Remarks by President Trump and President Buhari – The White House. Retrieved November 28, 2018, from https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/remarks-president-trump-president-buhari-federal-republic-nigeria-joint-press-conference/
  8. (2018, July 20). What we believe in – Media Literacy Council. Retrieved November 28, 2018, from https://www.betterinternet.sg/About-us/What-we-believe-in
  9. Allcott, H., Gentzkow ,M. (2017). Social Media and Fake News in the 2016 Election.
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  13. Chadwick. P (2017). Defining fake news will help us expose it-The Guardian. Retrieved November 28, 2018, from https://www.theguardian.com/media/commentisfree/2017/may/12/defining-fake-news-will-help-us-expose-it
  14. Compton, J., Jackson, B ,. & Dimmock, A.J.(2016). Persuading Others to Avoid Persuasion: Inoculation Theory and Resistant Health Attitudes. Retrieved November 28, 2018, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4746429/
  15. Gilbert,T.D., Krull,S.D., & Malone, S.P. (1990). Unbelieving the Unbelievable: Some Problems in the Rejection of False Information. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.  Retrieved November 28, 2018, from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/232538106_Unbelieving_the_Unbelievable_Some_Problems_in_the_Rejection_of_False_Information
  16. Hassan,N., Adair, B., Hamilton, J., & Li, C.(2015).The Quest to Automate Fact-Checking. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/301801279_The_Quest_to_Automate_Fact-Checking.
  17. Hassan,N., Li,C., Arslan, F., & Tremayne, M. (2017). Toward Automated Fact-Checking: Detecting Check-worthy Factual Claims by Claimbuster Retrieved November 28, 2018, from http://ranger.uta.edu/~cli/pubs/2017/claimbuster-kdd17-hassan.pdf
  18. Ng,H.(2018). Most people say they can spot fake news but falter when tested:survey – The Straits Times. Retrieved November 28, 2018, from https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/most-people-say-they-can-spot-fake-news-but-falter-when-tested-survey
  19. Nyhan, B., Reifler,J. (2006). When Corrections Fail – Dartmouth College. Retrieved November 28, 2018, from https://www.dartmouth.edu/~nyhan/nyhan-reifler.pdf
  20. Rizzo, S. (2018, May 8). Trump’s claim that Iran could build nuclear weapons in seven years-The Washington Post. Retrieved November 28, 2018, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2018/05/08/trumps-claim-that-iran-could-build-nuclear-weapons-in-seven-years/
  21. Romm, C. (2014). Vaccine Myth-Busting Can Backfire – The Atlantic. Retrieved November 28, 2018, from https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/12/vaccine-myth-busting-can-backfire/383700/
  22. Silverman, C. (2011). The Backfire Effect – Columbia Journalism Review. Retrieved November 28, 2018, from https://www.cjr.org/behind_the_news/the_backfire_effect.php
  23. Ting, C., Soh,S. (2017). What Lies Beneath the Truth: A Literature Review on Fake News,False Information and more.Retrieved November 28, 2018, from https://lkyspp.nus.edu.sg/docs/default-source/ips/report_what-lies-beneath-the-truth_a-literature-review-on-fake-news-false-information-and-more_300617.pdf

[1]Slang for those who post deliberately offensive and provocative content online.

Owen Phua (18-A4)

The Ethical Concerns of Sweatshops

Ethics in Progress

Existing literature by Powell and Zwolinski (2011), and Synder (2010), suggest that the ethical argument for sweatshops through a moral lens of the individual does not hold, hence this capstone project hopes to approach the argument from a different angle. This project aims to explore the ethical concerns of sweatshops, the progress that fast fashion brings to the socio-economic scene of certain countries where sweatshops are commonplace, as well as some ethical points of contention — are sweatshops sources of economic and social progress for these labourers, or are they convenient sources of exploitation? This project considers both the ethical and unethical concerns of sweatshops in a socio-economic dimension, then evaluating the necessity of sweatshops in terms of the ethical lenses of deontology and utilitarianism.

In general, we argue that fast fashion and its influence it has on sweatshops is a double edged sword when it comes to the social and economic impacts it can have on its host country. Entirely obliterating the industry of fast fashion is almost impossible, as it would involve millions of low-skilled workers being unemployed. Instead, careful regulations have to be put in place to protect the rights of the disempowered working in the industry such that everyone can benefit from it.


In many developing countries, employment opportunities come in the form of sweatshop labour—where workers, mostly women and children, work in exploitative and hazardous conditions, facing harsh employers and suffering the backlash of global materialism all for a meagre pay. Driving the demand for sweatshops is the consumerist desire for new and on-trend items, otherwise known as fast fashion, ranging from high-fashion apparel to machine parts; yet the pursuit of convenience and material gratification always comes at a higher price than the good purchased. Nowadays fast fashion brands produce about 52 “micro-seasons” a year, translating to at least one new “collection” being released per week. According to author Elizabeth Cline, the ever-popular Zara started the craze by shifting to bi-weekly deliveries of new merchandise back in the early aught. From then on, it has become the norm to have a towering supply of stock at all times. With the increased rate of production of retail clothing, there are inevitably corners to be cut, resulting in clothing items that are being produced at an astonishing rate, but being low quality and even lower costs. Brands such as Forever21 or Zara are able to profit from their operations by selling a tremendous amount of clothing worldwide at cheap prices. However, as expressed by journalist Lucy Siegel, “Fast fashion isn’t free. Someone, somewhere is paying.” At the expense of workers’ basic rights, retail conglomerates choose to focus on economic gain, where keeping wages low allows the firm to lower manufacturing costs, and keeping workers packed in cramped, unsanitary conditions allows for the employment of more workers per factory. Simultaneously, proponents of sweatshop labour argue that the creation of such factories provide jobs to the unskilled, who choose to work in the best given conditions in the country, where alternatives could be even less favourable. Therefore, with this dilemma in place, this brings to light a critical question: what are the ethical concerns of sweatshops?


Sweatshops violate the right to basic wages and working conditions. Sweatshop owners often pay their workers inadequate wages, an injustice compounded by unsafe working conditions and exhaustive working hours – in Bangladesh, workers are forced to work daily for 14-16 hours for around $45 a month, which remains far below the living wage level (War on Want, 2015). Several thousands of workers were also injured from over 50 factory fires since 1990. As workers are routinely paid below the minimum wage, much less can be expected of employers to pay their labourers for overtime work done, what workers are forced to commit to daily. Overtime pay thus becomes a secondary concern (Bullman, 2003) in the face of poor working conditions. Besides this, to ensure the subordination of female labourers, male workers and supervisors inflict sexual, verbal and physical abuse onto these women.

Furthermore, the desire to expose sweatshop employers and bring justice to the workers may come at the expense of complete joblessness, forcing sweatshop labourers into worse job alternatives or deeper poverty. In the debate over the ethicality of sweatshops, the “Choice Argument” posits that “a sweatshop worker’s choice to accept the conditions of his or her employment is morally significant, both as an exercise of autonomy and as an expression of preference” (Zwolinski, 2006). However, there are objections to be made against this belief, as workers firstly may not be of the age to consent to working in such dismal conditions, which is the case for exploited child labour. Secondly, due to a lack of education, labourers from developing countries may not understand the implications of, and alternatives to, working in sweatshops, thus are robbed of the opportunity to further their skills due to the constraints of their abilities. Finally, with a lack of better infrastructure and employment opportunities, even if such labour does provide minimal benefits, sweatshops still remain wrongfully exploitative (Zwolinski, 2006).


Economic benefits of sweatshops

Firstly, sweatshops could encourage mass employment opportunities, which raises the minimum wages. This is especially so for the fashion industry, which is still a labour-intensive industry that causes companies to source much of the low-skilled labour required from the host countries in order for them to keep their cost of production as low as possible. With the creation of job opportunities, fewer desperate workers competing for jobs meant employers must pay more for labour, argue economists Chris Blattman of the University of Chicago and Stefan Dercon of Oxford University in the latest study (Coren, 2016).

Furthermore, local employees benefit from the transference of skills that the sweatshops equip them with, especially since many employees of sweatshops are low-skilled groups of people who often have little access to education. There was a particular facility in Bangladesh that was well lit and clean, and the ladies inside were required as a condition of employment to spend several hours daily in a company-run school where they were taught to read and write (Graham, 2000). This was a country where illiteracy rates among women could reach almost 90 per cent, hence such efforts would drastically improve the quality of labour in the country where the sweatshop resides in. Even though instances of harsh labour conditions can be found due to lapses in regulations, senior management officials will correct them once they and the public become aware of them, suggesting that the conditions of sweatshops can be improved to reach an “acceptable standard”.

On a macro scale, the presence of sweatshops bring in Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) which are highly beneficial to host countries, especially if it is closely integrated with parent firms (Cooper, 2009). FDI generally improves the living standards in the country because the infrastructure required by the sweatshop industry can help to support the host countries’ development. Furthermore, there are more indirect impacts brought by FDIs through forward and backward linkages in the production circuit that enables more local industries, such as textiles for clothing sweatshops, to increase their activities as well. There are more jobs created in the local economies of the host countries because of increased local spendings on more goods and services, driving the entire country’s economy to develop, as well as to reduce unemployment rates (Kurtishi-Kastrati, 2013). A number of countries have passed through a manufacturing phase in which sweatshop conditions were more prevalent on their way to full industrialisation and a diversified economy, such as the United States, Japan, and Korea. More recently, China may be on a similar route though it is still in a transition phase and sweatshop abuses reports are rather common (Jimenez and Pulos, n,d.).



This section will evaluate the necessity of sweatshops in the fashion industry using two ethical perspectives, deontology and utilitarianism. It will compare the two theories and their relevance to the issue at hand and defend the presence of sweatshops through a utilitarian approach while critiquing the applicability of the deontological approach in examining the ethical nature of sweatshops.

Employing a deontological perspective

Deontology is a normative ethical theory that argues that the rightness or wrongness of an action should be determined by whether or not the action is right or wrong under a set of rules or duties; in this case, evaluating the moral value of sweatshops would require reference to the legal frameworks and social paradigms present in individual countries in order to draw conclusions on whether they are right or wrong. Therefore, a deontological approach to considering the moral nature of the sweatshop industry would involve an examination of the existing laws that govern the fashion industry in countries with heavy sweatshop activity, as well as the various social rules and duties underpinning countries, such as the duty of the government to ensure economic growth and the duty of the average citizen to be a productive member of society.

As previously discussed, many sweatshops violate labour and wage laws due to the subpar environments which they operate in. This indicates that sweatshops are deontologically wrong due to their violation of the law. However, deontology also advocates that the ethical nature of actions should be determined in relation to the duties of the actors performing them. In the case of firms in the fashion industry, which have social obligations to manufacture clothing for consumption, deontology would not oppose the establishment of sweatshops if they were primarily used to provide consumers with clothing. However, this is only true if it is assumed that clothing is a basic necessity and thus obligates producers to cater to this need; admittedly, this may not strictly hold true in all situations, such as the frivolous purchasing of clothing by the financially comfortable.

At the same time, firms arguably have a duty to respect the human rights of sweatshop workers and are therefore deontologically faulted for failing to meet them through sweatshop operations. Employing a deontological approach therefore appears to lead to a moral impasse, where the duties of firms are internally conflicted and are not aligned towards common end goals e.g. the firm’s duty to maximise profit and to meet the high demand for clothing contrasts and its obligation to comply with national laws contrast with the firm’s duty to maintain acceptable working conditions in sweatshops. To appropriately apply the deontological approach to the sweatshop industry, one would need to properly examine and reconcile the conflicting rules and duties of every agent involved; this is clearly untenable.

Employing a utilitarian perspective

Utilitarianism, on the other hand, is an ethical theory that advocates that the most ethical choice is the one that produces the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Unlike deontology, the utilitarian approach does not lead to internal contradictions if applied to the sweatshop industry. It applies a clear criterion for determining which action is more ethically desirable: how much good it does for how many people.

In the case of employing utilitarianism to evaluate the sweatshop industry, one would weigh having sweatshops or abolishing them and then determine how much “good” each option contributes and for how many people. Simply put, the utilitarian approach justifies the continued use of sweatshops for three primary reasons. The first is that the sweatshop industry has produced a net happiness for consumers of clothes. It can be realistically assumed that the total number of consumers of sweatshop products in the world, estimated to be 1.2 billion by 2020 (Orendorff, 2019) far exceeds that of the number of sweatshop workers. It has also been argued that the purchase of clothing produces happiness in consumers, given that the choices inherent in shopping may restore personal control over one’s environment and reduce residual sadness (Rick, S. I., Pereira, B., & Burson, K. A., 2014). It is reasonable to conclude that the gross happiness derived from purchasing sweatshop products outweighs (or at least equals) the sum of negative consequences, both emotional and physical, that the sweatshop industry has inflicted on sweatshop workers, then the continuation of sweatshops holds more goodness than its discontinuation.

Conversely, discontinuing sweatshops would result in less net “good” because the loss in net “goodness” due to the number of people who are no longer able to consume sweatshop products would outweigh the increase in “goodness” due to the improved standards of living for sweatshop workers. Secondly, since it has been argued that sweatshops do in fact lead to some benefits for workers themselves (such as the provision of wages in the first place), it may be argued that sweatshops should still be continued because they benefit workers themselves, albeit to a smaller extent. In this way, the best approach to maintain the use of sweatshops without abolishing them altogether would be to strike a middle ground by ensuring that workers enjoy more rights and higher wages while operating under acceptable working conditions. Thirdly, the presence of sweatshops in the fashion industry yields “good” for other agents beyond consumers and workers. For example, firms are able to benefit due to the lower costs of production of operating sweatshops, while governments are able to easily achieve macroeconomic goals like lowering unemployment through the creation of job opportunities in sweatshop industries. The benefits generated for third parties are evidently enough to justify the continuation of sweatshops as compared to their discontinuation.


In this paper, we outlined both reasons as to why sweatshops may be unethical or ethical and evaluated the necessity of sweatshops using a deontological and a utilitarian perspective. The ethicality of sweatshops can come into question when issues such as the right to basic wages, safe working conditions and cases of exploitation and harassment come to light. On the flip side, sweatshops also provide mass employment opportunities, allow for transference of skills to the less-educated and lowly-skilled garment workers and bring in FDI to improve general living standards in the host country.

Using a deontological perspective to evaluate the necessity of sweatshops brings us to a moral impasse: where the duties of firms are internally conflicted and not aligned towards a common goal end.

We also employed a utilitarian perspective to evaluate the necessity of sweatshops, where we concluded that the benefits generated are enough to justify the continuation as compared to their discontinuation.


Recent trends have shown that retailer ethics will be increasingly scrutinised in today’s market; unethical behaviour or manufacturers will be highlighted and they will be subject to bad press like Zara and H&M. Though the systematic exploitation of labour due to fast fashion is a problematic model that needs to be subject to change, large fashion retailers such as H&M employs over 100,000 people worldwide, and to stop making clothes would mean job losses on a huge scale. To simply say ‘no more fast fashion’ would mean the redundancy of millions of people, including those indirectly affected in the supply chain. Admittedly, the model of fast fashion is important to consumers, manufacturers and labourers. Instead of casting aside the entire model of fast fashion manufacturing, a paradigm shift must occur — to move away from unethical practices in the fast fashion industry towards sustainable, ethical practices that will benefit all parties involved. There is evidence of growing interest in responding to ethical consumer concerns, by incorporating ethics into organisational practices in large companies. It is plausible to say that change is on the horizon for the fast fashion industry. Yet, a change will only be observed in this complex and convoluted system through the joint efforts of all the actors involved — the manufacturing companies, governments, labourers themselves, and consumers like you and me.


Cooper, R. N. (2009, January 29). Beyond Sweatshops: Foreign Direct Investment and Globalization in Developing Countries. Retrieved from https://www.foreignaffairs.com/reviews/capsule-review/2003-01-01/beyond-sweatshops-foreign-direct-investment-and-globalization

Coren, M. J. (2016, October 07). New research finds sweatshops may be a necessary evil in the development of economies. Retrieved from https://qz.com/800707/new-research-finds-sweatshops-may-be-a-necessary-evil-in-the-development-of-economies/


Jimenez, G. C., & Pulos, E. (n.d.). Good Corporation, Bad Corporation: Corporate Social Responsibility in the Global Economy. Retrieved from https://milnepublishing.geneseo.edu/good-corporation-bad-corporation/chapter/9-csr-and-sweatshops/

Kurtishi-Kastrati, S. (2013). The Effects of Foreign Direct Investments for Host Country’s Economy. European Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies,5(1), 26-28. Retrieved from https://www.ejist.ro/files/pdf/369.pdf.

Orendorff, A. (2019, January 10). The State of the Ecommerce Fashion Industry: Statistics, Trends & Strategy. Retrieved from https://www.shopify.com/enterprise/ecommerce-fashion-industry

Snyder, J. (2010). Exploitation and Sweatshop Labor: Perspectives and Issues. Business

Ethics Quarterly, 20(2), 187-213. doi:10.5840/beq201020215

Sweatshops in Bangladesh. (2015, June 23). Retrieved from https://waronwant.org/sweatshops-bangladesh

Rick, S. I., Pereira, B., & Burson, K. A. (2014). The benefits of retail therapy: Making purchase decisions reduces residual sadness. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 24(3), 373-380. doi:10.1016/j.jcps.2013.12.004

Luanne Ang, Charlotte Teng, Isabel Nadine Tan, Lek Siang Ern (18-U1)

Who’s Afraid of Big Bad Pharma?

Ethics in Progress


In 2007, the cost of two Epipens was about USD$94. Today, those two same pens cost USD$700. It is a very common theme of headline news: Dramatic rises of pharmaceutical drug prices in the thousands of percents. This trend has raised the concern about the pharmaceutical industry’s profit-oriented pricing strategies that is unfair for their clients and particularly disadvantages lower and middle income families. This thus calls into question the ethics of pharmaceutical pricing. Because the pharmaceutical products in question have such a critical impact on the lives of many, this creates an even more pressing need for regulation in the pharmaceutical industry. Many suggestions have been put forth to address this pertinent issue, each providing a different perspective. In this paper, we aim to present analysis of solutions put forth by relevant voices in the field, and thus conclude with new insights on the regulation of pharmaceutical prices, to ensure a more ethical practice.



Before we begin the report, prior to full research on the issue, we hypothesise that the sharp increase in prices of pharmaceuticals and medical care from major pharmaceutical companies and corporations is not only unethical but also excessive in the funding of the research and development regarding these products. We believe that the benefits of privatisation of medical care do not justify the increasing of selling prices which is a breach of medical ethics, and that practical and feasible solutions must be identified to regulate the pricing issues. 


We will be researching on international pharmaceutical companies, and the impact of its pricing on their consumers. These impacts may range from medical and financial to social impacts. We will also consider the range and percentage of people who are affected, as well as the depth of impact. From this, we will research on methods and solutions proposed to solve the problems of pricing. 


We will consider research on the cost and selling prices of pharmaceutical products, and consider the differences in these prices in relation to the popularity and necessity of the product. This will allow us to estimate the impact sharp price hikes have on those affected, especially in relation to affordability and impact on health, and hence allow us to determine the ethical impact such price hikes have on consumers. Importantly, we will also research on various proposed solutions and self-regulatory measures to regulate the pricing of various products with the intention of mitigating unethical behaviour of firms, and compare the measures by the following FIRST criteria:

  1. Feasibility, Flexibility
  2. Impediments
  3. Root Cause
  4. Side effects
  5. Time period 

1.   Impact of Pharmaceutical Price Hikes on consumers and ethical implications

To assess the ethical impacts of Pharmaceutical pricing, we must assume that the companies which produce these products hold to the 4 values of medical ethics – respect for autonomy, beneficence, nonmaleficence, and justice (Gillons, 1994). These are the beliefs in the patient’s right to choose their treatment, and the medical professional’s responsibilities to act in the patients’ best interests, to not cause harm to them, and to fairly distribute scarce medical resources, and respect for consumers’ rights. In the context of our paper, this entails the responsibility of pharmaceutical companies to maximise the affordability and access of essential pharmaceutical products to all who require them. Sharp price hikes of products with profit-maximising objectives, especially when independent of changes to cost of production or development of the product, is hence seen as unethical, especially when it costs the affordability of these drugs to those with lower purchasing power.

With extremely high prices for new drugs and dramatic price hikes for current drugs, prescription drugs are the fastest growing category in the healthcare industry (Altarum Institute, 2017). The Department of Health and Human Services in the United States of America estimates that citizens spent more than $460 billion on drugs in 2016, which was 16.7 percent of total health-care spending. Thirty percent of these prices can be attributed to either changes in the composition of drugs prescribed toward higher price products or price increases for drugs that together drove average price increases in excess of general inflation (Department of Health and Human Services, 2016). 

The argument against regulating these high drug prices is that doing so will have slow research and development, but there is little evidence to link high drug prices and innovations (Emanuel, E. J., 2019). A team analysing fifteen drug companies that manufactured the 20 top-selling drugs globally found that the premiums received by these companies were substantially more than what they spent on research and development. After spending $80 billion a year on research and development, the companies made a profit of $40 billion from the top 20 drugs alone (Nancy L. Yu, Zachary Helms, Peter B. Bach, 2017). 

Fields, G (2013) examined big pharmaceutical companies for institutional corruption by comparing it to the corruption analysis of the American Congress. It was discovered that the pharmaceutical industry’s prioritisation of certain interests over others leads to consumers being disadvantaged, and concluded that it needs to concern itself with public interest due to its reliance on the trust of the public and its status as an institution that is looked to by the public for health issues. The views of certain insiders in large pharmaceutical companies seem to agree that the responsibility of ensuring access to medicine falls on the companies. FLAUM, S. (2016) presents that the pharmaceutical industry needs to begin self-policing in terms of the pricing of medicines and take on the responsibility of ensuring the affordability of essential medicines, despite the way these actions will put a limit on the revenue earned by them. He postulates that the public images of pharmaceutical companies have been suffering and taking social responsibility to ensure access to medicine will be the only sustainable method of doing business. 

Hogerzeil, H. V. (2013) similarly speaks of the social responsibility of the pharmaceutical industry to ensure access to essential medicines, such as in cases where medicines for severe illnesses do not yet exist due to lack of research & design on the part of the companies. There was a special focus on emerging economies with wide income gaps where the quality of medicines wildly differs or medicines are wholly unavailable in the region. An independent initiative, the Access to Medicine index, aims to encourage pharmaceutical companies to work towards ensuring access to medicines in less developed nations by exposing different companies’ methods and policies for improving access to medicine, and has been effective as many companies now devote almost 20% of research resources into addressing the needs of the poor. However, the end goal of the Access to Medicine index must be for the companies to treat improving access to medicine in developing countries as a sustainable way of doing business, rather than a donation for publicity’s sake. 

The current literature on the topic of the pharmaceutical industry and its pricing policies primarily discusses the impacts of this on different groups of people, and relegates the responsibility to the pharmaceutical industry to solve these issues of accessibility. Yet there is a significant gap in discussions on how the pharmaceutical industry can self-regulate or otherwise be regulated in order to put an end to unethical pricing strategies and improve accessibility to important pharmaceutical products. 

Thus we will in the next section delve into four proposed solutions and analyse them using the FIRST criteria.

Proposed Solutions to mitigate high pricing of pharmaceutical drugs

As it stands, solutions to the problem of high drug prices fall into two broad categories – solutions implemented by the government, and self-policing measures implemented by the pharmaceutical companies themselves. Each category has its associated benefits and drawbacks. While governmental policies are better regulated and can be implemented on a wider scale, they are often harder to approve and implement than self-regulatory policies, tend to impede drug research and development (Vernon & Abbott, 2005), and can often significantly delay drug launches (Cockburn, Lanjouw, and Schankerman, 2014). Self-regulating policies, on the other hand, benefit from being more easily implemented by individual companies, can be tailored to each company depending on factors such as state of development and type of product, and as a result are favoured by numerous studies, such as those mentioned in the previous section. However, it is difficult to enforce these policies as ultimately it is left up to the companies to self-regulate. This is unreliable, as with the example of Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, which, despite pledging to ‘Create the best possible healthcare at the lowest possible cost for the greatest number of people’, implemented a 2.5-fold price increase of the pain-relieving drug Ofirmev, after acquiring its original producer (Rockoff & Silverman, 2015). Thus, in consideration of the benefits and costs of each category, the four proposed solutions below will also span across both categories of solutions. 

Proposed solution 1: Government negotiation with companies

The first proposed solution we explored was the idea to let the federal government negotiate with drug companies for lower prices (Emanuel, E. J., 2015). Many believe that in order to combat the drastically rising annual prices of drugs, the government needs to intervene, as well as set a benchmark for drug spending. 92% of the American public believe in the idea of allowing their government to carry out these negotiations (Munnell, A. H., 2019). 

However, while the idea seems fairly straightforward, the implementation is not as feasible due to the complications involved when governments intervene in medical care markets. Interfering with negotiations might also affect the market-oriented approach of the pharmaceutical companies. This solution is currently still being debated in the United States, and has its drawbacks due to the limitations on how far their government can truly be involved in the negotiations, which is counter-productive to the solution. The United States congress has also deemed that Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) could not even directly be a part of these negotiations. The existence of middlemen (PBMs) during these price negotiations dampens the chances of getting the lowest prices as well (Wasik, J., 2018). This solution does not tackle the root cause of the problem, failing to address the emphasis on profit held by the pharmaceutical companies, as it focuses on treating the symptoms of the problem instead. It only addresses the high prices themselves, rather than the system that has allowed these prices to soar drastically, and thus does not address the root cause. 

Due to the drawbacks of this solution, it has been predicted that letting the government negotiate drug prices will save an inconsequential amount for the country(CRFB, 2016). The inflexibility of this solution creates a problem that the Secretary has very little negotiation leverage, and has no right to enforce any regulation instead of negotiation.

Proposed solution 2: Implement regulation legislature

Another proposal includes the full enforcement of rules and legislature that are meant to regulate the prices of the products sold by the pharmaceutical industry (Morton, F. S., Boller, L., Morton, F. S., & Boller, L, 2017). Governments would have to begin applying rules to allow for the quick and easy entry of generic products into the market, and providing incentives for consumers to choose treatments that offer more discounts. The enforcement of these rules and legislature would eventually result in lower prices for the consumer. 

The most recent development in legislation regarding drug prices is a bill in Maryland, USA which has been proposed in January of 2019. It would regulate the cost of prescription drugs and implement limits on how much state and local governments pay for the medicine (Collins, D, 2019). This proposed bill would create a five-member “drug affordability board” that would review the cost of brand-name drugs entering the market or brand-name drugs that increase in price by more than $3000 a year. The bill is touted to be a “model” for the rest of the country as well (Demarco, 2019). This shows that implementing rules and implementation is a viable solution and one that is being considered by policymakers. However, this proposed solution could have the unintended consequence of disincentivizing companies from providing drugs to countries or states that implement the policies, thus endangering patients’ access to important prescription drugs (Facher, L, 2019). This solution could have positive effects in the long run as the board will review drug prices every year and constantly be able to regulate prices to allow for affordability.

However, it is difficult to assess the feasibility of measures such as these as they are impeded from being implemented due to the actions of pharmaceutical manufacturers (Whistleblower Info, 2019). Moreover, pharmaceutical companies are able to bypass legislation by influencing policies that are meant to regulate them. In 2009 alone, pharmaceutical companies spent US$271 billion on lobbying (Fields, G. 2013). In a report by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), it was found that 153 pharmaceutical companies in 2017 lobbied on some variation of the term “drug pricing” (CREW, 2017.) These statistics reveal the amount of power and influence that pharmaceutical companies have over law-making processes and show the extreme difficulty of implementing any solutions to combat or regulate high drug prices. 

Figure 1: A graph displaying the number of companies lobbying on variations of the term “drug pricing” from 2013 – 2017

Proposed solution 3: Self-regulation

The third proposed solution is that of self regulation. Companies like Allergan Teva and Insys adhere to a self-imposed cap of a maximum of 10% price increase every year. Allergen describes this as a social contract, and emphasizes the company’s understanding that medicines have to be accessible in terms of price. The company has also pledged not to hike prices needlessly, especially for drugs that are approaching the end of patent protection (Allergan, 2017). However, some have pointed out that a 10% cap, while more restrained than excessive price hikes of the past, is not much of an improvement. Price increases are 10 times the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which can mean billions of dollars for expensive or best selling drugs (Lo, 2018). In addition, a drug can double in price in seven years with 10% annual price increases. While price increase caps might seem sustainable for the first few years, its impact is cumulative. This will be especially detrimental to patients who require medicine for chronic illnesses, who have no choice but to continue using these drugs despite price hikes. However, following this self-imposed cap of price increase percentages, other companies have also followed Allergan’s example, showing not only the success of such self-policing in one company, but also the possible impact that this can have on other companies in the industry. While these companies continue to increase their prices, many stick to Allergan’s pledge, with most keeping these increases below 10%. Price increases has decreased from about 20% a year in 2013 – 2015, to 8.7% in 2017 and 2018. Of course, not all companies have subscribed to this self-regulated price cap, which draws out the inability of self-policing to effectively regulate the entire industry. Hence, its effectiveness is only limited to the first few years of its implementation, and to a few companies in the industry.

Proposed Solution 4: Enforce greater price transparency 

The fourth proposed solution proposes the enforcement of greater price transparency of pharmaceutical drugs. Currently, drug prices are often negotiated by various different parties, such as employers and insurers, but rarely the true end-user, the consumers of these drugs themselves. However, there are drawbacks to this; for example, insurance companies are often unable to engage in heavy price negotiations as they often lead to supply shortages and fewer new products (Krugman, 2014). As a result, prices are often allowed to inflate due to a lack of negotiatory power on the part of these ‘middlemen’ for fear of unintended side effects, a lack of competition in the pharmaceutical market, and a low price elasticity of demand of drugs across all users, including general population, the elderly, and low-income individuals (Gemmill, 2008). 

However, one root cause of high drug prices, a lack of competition in the pharmaceutical industry due to insufficient information about drug prices, can be solved by implementing governmental policies which enforce greater price transparency of drugs to end-users. The intended outcome of such a policy is that with greater knowledge of drug prices, consumers would be better positioned and empowered to choose their treatment in consideration of prices and other factors, instead of having treatments chosen for them by these third parties, hence driving up competition in the drug market, lowering prices, and increasing consumer welfare. This has been proven to work – with medical procedures that rely on out-of-pocket payment from patients, such as head-to-toe CT and MRI scans, and LASIK surgery, prices have seen a dramatic decrease as in such cases patients’ are incentivised to consider the prices of such procedures when choosing between practitioners. 

Unfortunately, this solution only remains effective if consumers pay for their treatments out-of-pocket, and are hence are incentivised to save money; and in the realm of pharmaceutical drugs, especially when in the context of expensive and extended treatments involving life-saving drugs, it is highly infeasible to bypass insurance altogether and expect patients to self-fund their treatments, especially when it comes to low-income consumers, even with reduced drug prices. In this way, the feasibility of this solution is questionable. However, considering currently implemented policies such as cost sharing or user charges, which requires consumers to pay for a portion of the treatment at the point of use, and which reduces over-consumption of drugs, thereby improving the health of consumers and reducing expenditure (Gemmill, 2008), consumers are already arguably incentivised to find cheaper alternatives for treatment. Thus, even without completely doing away with insurers and other third parties paying for treatment on behalf of consumers, patients will remain incentivised to save money when selecting treatment, though arguably less so than if they paid wholly out-of-pocket; thus, this proposed solution can be seen as rather feasible, as there is a middleground which, though less effective, still prioritises patient welfare in keeping insurance in the equation.

Still, there are various factors which might impede the implementation of such a policy. For one, pharmaceutical middlemen seem invested in deliberately providing misleading drug prices and distorting them through tools such as copays and purposefully withholding information from pharmacists, thus preventing them from passing pricing information onto consumers (NCPA, 2016). As such, it might be challenging to implement this policy, considering the high likelihood of resistance from the pharmaceutical industry. Additionally, insufficient research has been done to show the possible side effects of such a policy, and it is uncertain whether these lowered prices would lead to supply shortages, less research and development, or delayed launches, of new drugs due to lowered profits.

Thus, greater price transparency of drugs is positioned to effectively tackle one root cause of raised drug prices, and seems highly feasible, but might face challenges in implementation, and there is a possibility of undesirable side effects. 


After the analysis of the four chosen solutions, we will now extract the most applicable parts of each of the four solutions. The first solution, calling for the government to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies, is a highly sought after and population-approved solution that will allow the government to have a direct hand in the regulation of drug prices. The second solution proposes stronger implementation of legislation meant to regulate drug pricing, and most importantly gives the example of the five-person “drug affordability” board to review the pricing of drugs. The third solution concerns self-regulation which hinges on the companies’ decision to make a commitment to the public. Finally, the last solution is about price transparency which does not require many infrastructural changes to be effective, but will face a lot of resistance from the pharmaceutical industry. 

Overall, we believe the most viable solutions of the four we have chosen are the second and fourth solutions. We can combine the two solutions to create a two-pronged solution. The government can put pressure on pharmaceutical companies to have greater price transparency, thus enabling more competition in the pharmaceutical market and allowing consumers and patients to make better monetary decisions and choose the most affordable packages of prescription medicine. At the same time, the government can convene a board to review the price of brand-name and generic drugs, when they are released and when they experience a price hike. These solutions will work in tandem to keep drug prices affordable and allow people to make the best financial decisions in terms of purchasing the drugs. 

However, the proposed solutions lack in some areas: A board of only five people to regulate the pharmaceutical industry would be too narrow to ensure a fair representation of all major stakeholders in this pricing issue, such as the government, the consumers, and the pharmaceutical companies themselves. To bridge this gap, we propose expanding the membership of this board to include representatives from various bodies, to ensure that the power of regulating the pharmaceutical industry does not remain concentrated in the hands of a small group of people. This would also ensure a more balanced representation of the needs from all relevant bodies, and can facilitate a consensus among these parties.

Another problem within our chosen solutions is the difficulty of implementation for the price transparency, as pharmaceutical companies would pose a lot of resistance to this measure. Moreover, the solution assumes that customers operate solely on their own individual terms, thus being able to use this provided transparency to their advantage and lower medical costs. We propose that the solution have more coverage on the many nuances of medical fees, not only providing information and transparency but tweaking methods of payment and insurance so customers have more agency over the schemes and drugs they wish to use. Also, the solution can come hand in hand with measures to determine that no falsehoods about prices and costs are being passed to the pharmacists themselves, in order to ensure that customers are well-informed enough to make better decisions. 


Our research has highlighted the impediments and problems brought about by the over-extensive power and influence that pharmaceutical companies exert on the government and legislation. We hope that future papers on this topic will also seek to explore the ties that these big pharmaceutical companies have with the government, particularly through policies, and the working relationship between these two bodies. 


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Lew Kylin, Su Thet Hnin San, Faith Wong Ying Wen, Su Thet Htar San (18-U1)