HO CHI MINH CITY, VIETNAM —
The quiz games and ring tosses at factories around Vietnam are more than just amusement; charity workers are using them in their efforts against human trafficking, with the support of foreign governments and corporations.
Factory workers play these games as part of training workshops to raise awareness about trafficking, held by the nonprofit Pacific Links Foundation. The organization partners with multinational companies that buy products from manufacturers in Vietnam, such as Walmart and the makers of Abercrombie & Fitch, Express and Victoria’s Secret.
In the workshops, Vietnamese learn about the tactics of traffickers who target them in industrial parks. It’s a heavy topic, though the instructors bring some levity with the entertainment, which can include prizes for participants who answer quiz questions.
“Through our work with survivors, we’ve seen a growing trend of victims being recruited from industrial zones,” Pacific Links co-founder Diep Vuong said in explaining the foundation’s focus on young people and factory workers, who are susceptible to those who offer dubious work abroad.
She said human trafficking is “stealing the future away from our youth and workers.”
Victims can be misled by the promise of tantalizing jobs in foreign countries, only to arrive and find that wages are lower than were advertised, passports are confiscated, or they are in insurmountable debt because of travel and agent fees, anti-trafficking activists say.
For companies, participation in campaigns like this has become one way to meet their corporate social responsibility goals.
“Vietnam is a very important sourcing market,” Walmart executive vice president for global leverage Scott Price said at a press conference with Pacific Links Friday. He added, “We ultimately want to be in a place where we are able to prevent forced labor in the first place.”
Walmart is supporting the Pacific Links workshops, which are collectively known as the “FACT” program and were launched in March. Besides contributing money and volunteers, the company sponsors related projects like tuition and bicycles donated to Vietnamese girls to help them stay in school, especially for rural families who sometimes prioritize boys when they cannot afford to educate all their children.
Nguyen Le Anh Thu is one of the beneficiaries of these scholarships. She described her earlier struggles, when making a living, rather than school, was the main concern in her family. For $1 or $2 a day, she would help her mother peel fruit for sale and save money for her grandmother’s medication.
“I thought, education is the only way I can get out of poverty,” said Anh Thu, who wins over strangers with her shy pauses and frequent smiles as she practices the English she has now learned.
The idea is to reach out to vulnerable populations before human traffickers do and work with them to achieve more economic stability so that they have less incentive to take illegal jobs abroad.
“Prevention measures, such as monitoring labor recruitment programs, community resilience and economic empowerment, and awareness-raising campaigns, are hugely important to help educate at-risk communities and strengthen their protections against future cases,” said U.S. consul general Mary Tarnowka, whose office in Ho Chi Minh City hosted the conference.
Pacific Links said it works on preventive measures, such as increasing financial literacy so families manage their household budgets consistently, as well as reactive measures, such as sheltering and reintegrating trafficking victims who return to Vietnam. According to the foundation, a worrying aspect of the problem is that many human traffickers used to be victims themselves, meaning they go on to bring more people into the same labor trap that they faced.