Huong Vu, Senior Advisor, Social Responsibility Operations (SRops) Consulting Co. Ltd., Vietnam
Child labor in Vietnam is complex and influenced by a number of factors. Huong Vu, of SRops Consulting in Vietnam, summarises some of the most significant findings emerging from a recent analysis.
The prevalence of child labor in Vietnam
In the context of rapid globalization, the world is getting smaller. In contrast, supply chains seem to be getting more complex and more dynamic. Child laborers can be found in all stages of supply chains in Vietnam, and in a wide range of sectors, including agriculture, manufacturing and retail. Child labor manifests itself in many forms.
According to the first National Child Labor Survey 2012, one-sixth (2.83 million) of Vietnam’s child population of 18.3 million, are currently engaged in some form of economic activity; around 42.6% of those are girls. In terms of sectors, about 67% work in agriculture, 15.7% in construction and manufacturing, and 16.7% in services. Common workplaces are plantation fields, farms, gardens, at home or in mobile venues.
Importantly, children’s health and physical development is likely to be adversely affected by these forms of employment. They are at high risk of illness, injury and even death due to a wide variety of machine, biological, physical, chemical, ergonomic, welfare/hygiene and psycho-social hazards, as well as from long hours of work and poor living conditions. Essentially, the same work hazards and risks that affect adult workers can affect child laborers, only more powerfully. In addition, child laborers lack the experience and awareness of workplace risks necessary to be able to take precautionary measures to protect themselves and others. Of the 1.75 million child laborers, about 1.315 million are at risk of engagement in activities prohibited for adolescent workers or are working in hazardous working environments as outlined in Circular No.09/TT-LB, dated 13 April 1995.
Why children work?
Child labor is a complex problem influenced by a number of contributing factors. These include awareness, culture, tradition, poverty, the cost of education, the availability of schooling, and the perceived level of relevance of education to daily needs. Many parents of working children share a cultural perspective of labor as being the most productive use of a child’s time.
Parents who are poor and have limited access to school or education, or never attended school themselves, may believe that education is not for their children or do not see the point of it or the benefits of it. They think that work is part of a child’s upbringing and that children learn more from working than being at school. They may reason that children learn more practical skills and are better prepared for the future and the labor market if they work. In many cases, this is a perspective passed down over generations. Further, those parents who are struggling to survive and can´t afford to send their children to school perceive that it is better to send their children to work rather than have them being idle around the home. Labor, in this repsect, is a form of childcare.
Rural parents in particular may often keep their children away from school in order to help at home during important seasonal events like the harvest and high fishing season.
How to stop child labor?
In practice, many stakeholders including global brands and suppliers have made multiple efforts to eliminate child labor from the supply chain and their workplace. It will not be easy to stop child labor practice as long as poverty exists. Further efforts from one or two parties will not be enough to successfully stop it. It requires multiple efforts from multiple stakeholders including the parents, the children themselves, global brands, business owners, national governments and international organizations.
So, the most effective ways to solve the problem of child labor are:
In order to improve living standards, there must be an effective government because eliminating child labor must be solved through good governance. If effective social security backups are provided by the government and related stakeholders, families will be more confident that they have enough to support themselves without having to resort to sending their children to work.
Simply banning child labor does not appear to work since the income from that work is necessary for many families to survive. What´s needed are effective laws to protect the rights and well-being of the child and family income, in addition to well-enforced systems and legal structures to make this work.
There is undoubtedly a need for capacity building, establishing well-functioning governmental programs, particularly those aimed at poverty elimination; delivering effective, compulsory and assessable education for all children; social security and social benefit mechanisms; job creation; life skills programs;; awareness raising around fair and decent workplaces; as well as building the capacity to control and monitor workplace affairs. Such capacity building, combined with the strong will of national governments, would go a long way to eliminating much child labor in Vietnam.
In the meantime, global brands intent on eradicating child labor should continue to work closely with their suppliers and other supply chain stakeholders such as the ILO, in addition to joining industry-wide initiatives to lobby the government for better legislation, better inspection of workplaces and better access to education and schooling, especially in rural areas.
 Launched in Hanoi on 14 March 2014. Prepared by Vietnam’s Institute of Labor Science and Social Affairs, an affiliate of the Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs (MOLISA) and developed from the data set provided by the General Statistics Office (GSO) with special technical assistance from the ILO.
 Data source from Vietnam National Child Labor Survey 2012 Report launched by 14 March 2014.
(Image: By Huong Vu. Footwear factory in Vietnam.)