Science, if done well, has the same powers regardless of how young the scientists are.
A simple idea of just testing the amount of vitamin C in various beverages uncovered some inconsistency in the labelling of Ribena, landed pharmaceutical giant GSK in court and admitting to 15 charges of breaching the Fair Trading Act.
These girls practiced the traits of being a good scientist. Being meticulous and consistent in their testing and trusting their results instead of the labels.
Headliners — student science buffs take on corporate giant and win
By NIC DALEY
Thursday, 29 March 2007
YOU wouldn’t read about it.
Two 14-year-old students undertaking a school science project, the result of which would lead to a landmark court case against a multinational corporation and worldwide fame.
But it’s a story already hitting headlines across the world after Ribena makers, GlaxoSmithKline, admitted accusations made against them by two Pakuranga College students.
Jenny Suo and Anna Devathasan, both now aged 17, are as shocked as the company.
They spoke to the Times and had a photo amidst the arrival of a BBC News film crew and demands from national and international media.
They say its “surreal” that their science fair project in 2004, which tested the amount of Vitamin C in a number of fruit drinks, has led to a court case and the associated media attention.
“It’s quite insane when you think about,” Anna says. “Most people wait their whole lives to find a chance like this, and we just stumbled on it. It cracks me up that we were 14 at the time.”
“It’s crazy that we were 14-year-olds just playing around with a lot of science stuff and we actually found something out,” Jenny says. “It’s unbelievable.”
The duo was at the Auckland District Court on Tuesday to hear some of the proceedings.
“There were cameras flashing and they were jostling each other, just like on the news,” Anna says.
“It felt like we were being convicted of murder,” Jenny adds.
The girls are pleased GSK admitted the 15 charges of breaching the Fair Trading Act; though the fine (more than $200,000) won’t mean much for the global corporation, the pair says the corrective advertising is a positive result.
“I think it’s good that they at least admitted it and didn’t try and say we were still wrong,” Jenny says.
The pair’s story begins in 2004, when the girls were in a Year 10 science class. For a science fair project they tested the Vitamin C content of eight juices.
While the content of most drinks matched what the label said, Ribena, which was claimed to have four times the Vitamin C of oranges, consistently came back short.
“In the beginning we thought we had screwed up but we did it so many times but we came out with consistent results, and that’s when we thought something was out of the ordinary,” Jenny says.
After attempts to contact Ribena resulted in a brush-off, the duo went to Fair Go. As well as filming the story, the organisation told the girls to contact the Commerce Commission, which they did.
“We wrote to them and they replied saying they would open an investigation,” Anna says.
Two years passed and the girls had begun to forget about the inquiry.
“Then we saw it in the news that the company had been charged, and that’s when it all exploded,” Anna says. “That’s when all the court stuff happened and we’ve been getting non-stop phone calls.”
“After all the media calm down I think that’s when it’ll be over for us, we’ve given our numbers to a lot of people today,” Jenny says.
As for the future, Anna plans to study for a law degree next year. Jenny, who featured in the Times last year after she and two classmates made the national final of a science documentary competition is considering studying advertising.
As a result of the girls’ and Commerce Commission investigation, GSK had begun correcting its labels one year ago and published a statement after this week’s court case:
“GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) Consumer Healthcare has accepted 15 representative charges brought by the Commerce Commission relating to a product claim and Vitamin C content information on Ribena.
“Since the Commission brought its concerns to our attention, GSK has already: Revised all advertising to ensure there were no claims in regard to Vitamin C that could potentially be misleading to consumers; modified Ribena labels on the “Ready to Drink” products so that the labels made no reference to Vitamin C; implemented a plan to reformulate “Ready to Drink” Ribena products with new methods for testing Vitamin C.
“GSK is pleased this court case is now complete so we can reassure our customers that any problems with the Ribena RTD products are historical and do not affect the remainder of the range. The fact some of our products had incorrect labelling is to us, unacceptable, and we sincerely regret any confusion caused to customers who feel they may have been misled.”