Updates on SDG Goal 14 in VietnamVietnam is a tropical country in Southeast Asia with a coastline along the South China Sea. The livelihoods of Vietnam’s people and much of its economy depends on oceans for fishing and tourism. It also has a connection to the global economy through shipping lanes. SDG Goal 14: Life Below Water became a top priority for the Vietnamese government in the past few years. Updates on SDG Goal 14 in Vietnam show that the government believes in a multilateral approach to protecting marine life. Achieving SDG Goal 14 would prevent the collapse of one of Vietnam’s largest industries and protect citizens from slipping into poverty.

Overview of SDG Goal 14

SDG Goal 14 calls for the conservation and sustainable use of all marine resources. The U.N. finds that “improved regulations, together with effective monitoring and surveillance, have proven successful in reverting overfished stocks to biologically sustainable levels.” The U.N. also finds that such conservation efforts are low in developing regions. A commitment to SDG Goal 14 is also imperative because, economically speaking, the global value of marine and coastal resources amounts to $3 trillion annually. This equates to an estimated 5% of global GDP. Vietnam’s multilateral approach to implementing marine conservation efforts could have a significant impact on SDG Goal 14.

The U.N. identified several targets for SDG Goal 14 with individual timelines for each. Upcoming deadlines for targets include reducing marine pollution significantly by 2025 and sustainable management of fishing and tourism industries by 2030. SDG Goal 14 indicates that Vietnam successfully prevented overexploitation of ocean fish stocks. However, the U.N. found that major challenges remain for Vietnam in achieving clean ocean waters. The setbacks on ocean cleanliness counteract the progress on marine life protection. Because of this, the U.N. determined in 2019 that Vietnam’s progress on SDG Goal 14 is stagnant. To achieve the 2025 target and make progress on SDG Goal 14 overall, Vietnam must prioritize marine pollution.

Vietnam’s Actions Toward SDG Goal 14

The Vietnamese government identifies plastic litter as a significant cause of marine pollution. This creates a barrier to achieving SDG Goal 14. In 2020, Vietnam developed the National Action Plan for Management of Marine Plastic Litter, which sets ambitious goals to reduce pollution in government-controlled waters. This plan aims to reduce plastic litter in oceans by 50% by 2025 and by 75% by 2030. To do so, the government developed strategies to target the pollution from the source. This includes eliminating single-use plastic in coastal tourist areas and cooperating with international partners to find better ways to manage land waste.

This long-term strategy for combating marine pollution builds upon the progress made from short-term initiatives. For example, Vietnam hosts a national Sea and Islands Week every June since 2009 to motivate citizens to engage in ocean-conserving activities. This inspires local action to stop marine pollution such as beach clean-ups and behavior-changing campaigns to reduce litter.

Partnerships for SDG Goal 14

In addition to national initiatives, Vietnam engages in multilateral strategies to combat marine pollution. Vietnam signed on to the Bangkok Declaration on Combating Marine Debris as part of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The declaration commits Southeast Asian countries to protecting oceans and promoting international cooperation to achieve sustainable management of shared ocean space. Cooperation on the issue is crucial for Southeast Asia as much of the coastlines overlap and are governed by multiple authorities. In line with targets set by the U.N. for SDG Goal 14, the declaration aims to greatly minimize marine pollution by 2025.

To accommodate the goal, ASEAN released the Regional Action Plan for Combating Marine Debris in May 2021. The five-year plan offers countries very specific strategies for reducing marine pollution. Some strategies mirror Vietnam’s national initiatives such as reducing the inputs to marine pollution that originate from land and finding alternatives to plastic. However, ASEAN also developed highly specific guidelines for long-term projects, such as phasing out single-use plastics and improving the measurement and surveillance of marine debris. Partnering with multilateral institutions increases Vietnam’s ability to achieve SDG Goal 14.

Sustaining the Economy

As a coastal nation, Vietnam relies heavily on oceans to sustain its economy and support its population to rise out of poverty. SDG Goal 14 directs developing countries such as Vietnam to conserve marine life and restore clean waters to oceans. The Vietnamese government’s plans of action show its commitment to fully achieving this objective. Overall, the updates on SDG Goal 14 in Vietnam look hopeful. With plans in place, Vietnam is set to make significant progress on SDG Goal 14 in the next few years.

Viola Chow
Photo: Flickr

The North-South Expressway
Vietnam has experienced incredible economic growth since its reforms in 1986. Over three decades, these new economic policies have resulted in an explosion of economic activity and a slash in the rate of poverty. However, Vietnam’s transportation infrastructure is woefully behind many other developed economies. The government responded to this need by creating a nationwide connectivity project, the North-South Expressway.

The Infrastructure Issue

Vietnam has inadequate transportation networks and requires development and investment. Empirically, Vietnam’s 2020 target goal of $27 billion for public investment, mainly dedicated to transportation infrastructure, shows this. The country’s transportation needs have steadily risen since the economic reforms. Road usage in Vietnam has been on an incline with congested streets and car accidents constituting Vietnam’s hidden epidemic. However, transportation investments have lagged behind. An increase in funding is necessary for the country to reap the benefits of efficient transportation.

The North-South Expressway

The North-South Expressway is the solution to this transportation problem. The $17.9 billion project looks to connect all of Vietnam from Lang Son to Ca Mau. The road system will be an expanse of 1,811 kilometers with a toll collection system and a smart traffic system. Travel to important tourism sites, economic zones and other transportation areas will now be feasible with the new expressway. This high-speed travel throughout diverse geographical regions will revitalize the country’s transportation infrastructure. For the first time in Vietnam’s history, the country will be well connected.

Unfortunately, the central government has run into issues with financing the project. Originally, the government split the project into 11 sub-projects, with five being a public-private partnership (PPP). However, only three of the five received financial backing; the remaining two had no investor bids. The government then changed the two unfunded projects to public projects. However, the government’s ability to finance the project on its own is uncertain. The much-needed outside investments have proven hard to obtain. The project itself is attractive but legal ambiguity within the country causes caution and concern in investors. As such, Vietnam’s government has been spurred into implementing new legislation.

Public-Private Partnership Law

The Public-Private Partnership Law (PPPL) aims to fix the legal barriers preventing the execution of The North-South Expressway. The PPPL will be in effect as of January 2021. The law will clarify the process of investing in Vietnam by creating standard form contracts and government guarantees of project fulfillment. The law will also enforce proper foreign currency payment from foreign investors and the use of a risk-sharing mechanism. Essentially, the PPPL elevates and integrates the previously passed laws, decrees and circulars that regulated PPPs into one authoritative law. It will make private and foreign investment in government-sponsored infrastructure projects simpler, less risky and more appealing.

The Light at the End of the Road

Improving transportation networks will have a profound impact on Vietnam. It will increase economic activity through improved connections between consumers and producers and decrease transportation costs. The World Economic Forum estimates a 5% to 25% economic return on every dollar that goes toward infrastructure, such as transportation. More succinctly, developed roads lubricate the flow of goods and people across regions, which increases economic activity.

Additionally, developing transportation networks directly affects society’s most impoverished members. Areas with little economic opportunity would become connected to vital economic centers. As a result, connectivity to social services, such as health care and education, would increase along with economic and social mobility. The economic rewards are well worth the financial investment into transportation infrastructure. The North-South Expressway — with the help of the PPPL — indicates significant poverty reduction for Vietnam in the near future.

Vincenzo Caporale
Photo: Flickr

improving conditions for Vietnam farmersWithin the past years, the Vietnamese agricultural sector has experienced multiple changes and improvements in labor conditions. Considering previous conditions of unsustainable work ethics and disadvantageous labor compensation, many Vietnamese farmers struggled with unstable trade agreements and a lack of farm and production management, leaving workers with uncertainty in their labor. Changes in Vietnam’s federal regulation and farming methodology are expected to improve conditions for Vietnam farmers.

The New Vietnam Labor Code

To start, the Vietnamese government implemented revisions to the Vietnam Labor Code, which are taking place this year. The policy changes include coverage for laborers without working contracts, which widens the new code’s coverage from 20 million workers to 55 million. New policy additions also include laws against gender discrimination and sexual misconduct, protecting employers and providing equal opportunity in the agricultural sector. Employers now have an option for maternal leave if they choose to and law passages define sexual harassment clearly now for better prevention.

The code protects workers from unfair wage contracts, as it enables employers and laborers to negotiate and collectively set wages and conditions. Workers may also join a workers’ organization of their choice, to ensure protection and fair contracts for those represented. Furthermore, the government now establishes previously absent minimum wage and overtime caps.

New Policies to Improve Conditions for Vietnam Farmers

Along with the new labor code, new measures have taken place to better manage production and trade relations, which have sometimes been caught in scams between export companies and incorrect dealing agreements. There have also been cases of exports violating plant safety regulations, possibly resulting in investigations that halt production processes at farms and packaging facilities. To prevent shortcomings and create accountability, the Vietnamese local authorities are working toward structured management of agricultural production, which tries to monitor traceability for pest control and fertilizer sources better and will improve conditions for Vietnam farmers.

In addition to these new management policies, the Vietnamese agriculture sector is looking for new sustainable ways to reuse farming spaces and incorporate advanced technology. An incentive to implement those is the constant instability of weather conditions, which can result in drought and saltwater intrusion. The Vietnamese state continues to combat these threats with freshwater reservoirs and irrigation systems, yet it still affects many farms. In regions with insufficient rice growth, the Vietnamese Department of Crop Production approved the plan to convert these rice fields into fruit-growing plants or for other agricultural activities that acquire a higher income. However, to combat weather inconsistency and its consequences, rice farms have implemented new technologies such as modern combine harvesters and rice processing gadgets for efficient production.

Solar Panels for Farmers in Need

Other new improvements in Vietnam have been implemented to benefit a broader section of farming communities. The UNEP’s EmPower project is a notable change, working on installing solar panels for animal farms that are burdened with bad access to electricity and financial instability. Struggling families and farmers will receive solar power for free and can use the electricity for ventilation systems and incubation equipment used to heat chicken rearings. This introduction of solar power not only alleviates electricity costs for Vietnamese farmers, but also for indigenous populations that take advantage of this source of energy. Furthermore, the ones affected called this new addition a solution to their needs during the pandemic.

In conclusion, various measures and policy adjustments have taken place in 2021 to improve conditions for Vietnam farmers. The Vietnamese government’s newfound regulation of agriculture and management procedures bring about order and stability to Vietnamese farmers, and the implementation of technologies creates greater productivity in several farming districts. Considering the new changes, Vietnamese farmers newly receive a reliable income and accountability in their labor.

– Linda Chong
Photo: Flickr

Spices Alleviating Poverty in VietnamAs unexpected heroes, the spices alleviating poverty in Vietnam are everyday seasonings that are saving the Southeast Asian nation. Since 2013, the Vietnamese spice industry has been practicing more sustainable farming and sharing knowledge between agricultural communities, helping to lift more than 80,000 households out of poverty.

The Spice Industry in Vietnam

By improving the spice value chain, the nation’s farmers have seen a 14.5% increase in annual income, improving their standard of living and allowing them the financial freedom to thrive rather than just survive. This is possible due to the increase in global demands for spices including cinnamon, turmeric, star anise, black pepper and cardamom.

With the profitable market that Europe and the U.S. have brought to the Vietnamese spice industry, many expect new regulations for safe production and quality control for the industry. Some spice farmers had to pivot to organic farming to meet these requirements and have since seen a great increase in profits as these Western nations pay higher prices in comparison to China and India.

Regulated Spice Farming

To meet these requirements and appeal to Western markets, farmers follow the guidelines that the Regional BioTrade Project set. Vietnamese farmers now learn how to farm without chemicals like herbicides or preservatives, use special machinery for harvesting and label spices with their correct origins. These practices help to build a sustainability chain to keep the Vietnamese spice industry profitable for the future.

Several organizations have helped the Vietnamese spice industry reach this level of success. The Spice of Life Project, which the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and Cordaid funded, has helped thousands of spice farmers in Vietnam by creating the Spice Association to foster relationships between small community farmers and the state. These initiatives also improved irrigation, drying, slicing, processing and packing practices, yielding higher production and quality.

Providing these local farmers with this knowledge is essential to successfully use spices to alleviate poverty in Vietnam. The National Agriculture Extension Center (NAEC) and the Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH) have introduced a National Sustainability Curriculum and Agrochemical Apps to properly train farmers to produce spices for the global market.

The 3 Essential Spices Alleviating Poverty in Vietnam

  • Pepper: Vietnam has exported pepper to more than 100 countries and territories, making up 60% of the world’s exports. In 2018, Vietnam’s booming pepper industry held the international pepper conference called Vietnam Pepper Outlook. This event intended to allow farmers to connect and share knowledge, expand business connections and suggest ideas for the sector’s sustainable development.
  • Cardamom: This spice grows in a shady, cool environment, making it an ideal source of income for villages located at high altitudes. Due to the income that the spice generates, many households in these higher regions, such as the H’Mong people, were able to raise household income above the government-defined poverty line. People can use cardamom for medicinal, aromatic or culinary purposes but the cardamom market had died off until the mid-1980s when demand rose again. Many small farmers have successfully taken advantage of this rise in cardamom demand, pulling low-income households out of poverty. Farmers are working toward sustainable practices to ensure the success of this spice for years to come.
  • Cinnamon: In 2016, the Nam Det commune’s annual income from cinnamon products was 32 billion Vietnam Dong ($1.4 million). In this Vietnamese commune, people have not only left poverty but they have produced enough income to send their children to school, buy refrigerators and other commodities they once thought of as an inaccessible luxury. Since the Vietnamese spice market has stretched to the West, farmers’ lives have improved immensely. The bark of one cinnamon tree brings in about 300,000 to 500,000 Vietnam Dong ($13-21), a far greater price than what cinnamon farmers received only years ago.

A Poverty Reduction Spice Success Story

Exemplifying cinnamon’s potential is Trieu Mui Pham, a 94-year-old cinnamon farmer that saved her poverty-ridden village, Lao Cai, by planting cinnamon seeds. In 1974, she visited Yen Bai, a village that farming cinnamon had successfully revived. Pham decided to plant cinnamon seeds and waited patiently for years until she could harvest. Today, her cinnamon forest has more than 50,000 trees and her community is prosperous, an inspiring example of spices alleviating poverty in Vietnam.

While the spices alleviating poverty in Vietnam are improving people’s standard of living, spice farming has also helped to restore and protect the environment. Vietnam now focuses on farming and crop exports as opposed to felling trees for profit. Spices are lifting people in Vietnam out of poverty while contributing to the global economy.

– Veronica Booth
Photo: Pixabay

renewable energy sources in VietnamOn November 25, 2015, the Vietnamese government adopted the Renewable Energy Development Strategy by 2030 with an outlook to 2050, in effect approving renewable energy as a viable and necessary plan. At its core, the strategy shifts Vietnam’s energy policy from focusing on fossil fuels to renewable energy by setting specific goals. After five years, the strategy has resulted in some profound successes: renewable energy sources in Vietnam have gone from non-existent to growingly important.

Renewable Energy Sources in Vietnam

The main driver of this shift comes from Vietnamese electricity demand outpacing its supply. Due to Vietnam’s incredible economic growth, its energy needs have grown significantly. For example, in 2020, Vietnamese electricity needs were 7.5% higher than they were in 2019. Overall, its electricity demand has increased by an average of 10% per year for the last five years.

Vietnam’s Plans for Renewable Energy

The 2004 Electricity Law is the prime legislation governing Vietnam’s energy sector. The Electricity Law requires the establishment of national power development master plans for 10-year periods. As the law instructed, the Vietnamese government released its National Power Development Plan for 2011 to 2020 in 2011. One can sum up the plan’s goals as securing Vietnam’s energy needs, improving connectivity in rural areas and increasing the national reliance on renewable sources of energy. The plan estimated that $150 billion in renewable energy investment was necessary to meet Vietnam’s rising energy demand.

The Vietnamese government, in a bid to promote the goals set out in this plan, issued a decision in 2015, approving Vietnam’s renewable energy development strategy up until 2030. In 2016, the government further revised it. The revised version guaranteed that 10% of the Vietnamese energy (excluding hydropower electricity) would come from renewables. The decision reassured the government’s commitment to a reduction of coal-fired energy.

In addition to issuing guarantees, it also laid out some new incentive-based policies to promote investment in the renewable energy sector. For example, it promises:

  • Import duty relief on imported materials used for renewable energy projects
  • A reduced corporate tax rate for companies working on renewable energy production
  • Land use incentives such as reduced or waived fees

Improvements and Progress in the Energy Sector

As a result of these plans and strategies, Vietnam has made significant inroads in increasing wind and solar energy contributions to its overall grid. In 2014, solar, wind and biomass gasification made up only about one-third of 1% of the country’s total installed capacity. Fast forward five years and these renewable energies now make up about 10% of the total energy supply.

In addition to developing solar and wind power, hydropower is already a renewable energy source that constitutes a substantial component of Vietnam’s energy sector. In 2019, it accounted for 46% of the electricity mix.

The government expects to build on this success by announcing the new 10-year National Power Development Plan 2021-2030 which will lay out the next steps and policies to further entrench renewable energy. The government has set renewable energy targets of 15-20% of total energy share by 2030 and 25-30% by 2045.

Even so, expectations have determined that coal will continue to be the dominant source of energy in the country. Although solar and wind power are a growing share of Vietnamese energy production, they have yet to grow faster than energy demand. Additionally, wind and solar energy are dependant on weather conditions and therefore only present intermittent solutions.

The Limitations of Hydropower

Additionally, although hydropower does generate more power than coal, its growth potential is stunted. Hydropower in Vietnam is mostly reliant on the Mekong-Delta, a river that many countries have access to. As a result, it is vulnerable to how other nation-states utilize the river with infrastructure projects that restrict the river’s flow and intensity. Hydropower projects are inherently limited because the government has only so much river access.

Meanwhile, coal presents a cheap and short-term solution to its supply deficit problem. In 2019, coal was 36% of Vietnam’s energy mix and is expected to remain around that proportion for the new National Power Development Plan 2021-2030.

The US as an Invaluable Partner

The United States is proving to be an invaluable partner in Vietnam’s transition to renewable energy as it has provided support, investment and guidance to the Vietnamese government. Specifically, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has committed to multiple projects to help Vietnam’s transition. These projects include:

  • Low Emission Energy Program (I): Providing support to the government in developing and implementing long-term renewable energy strategies (2015-2021, $16 million)
  • Low Emission Energy Program (II): Further support the government in transitioning to renewable energies (2020-2025, $36.25 million)
  • Urban Energy Security: Working with Da Nang and Ho Chi Minh cities to improve enabling environments for distributed energy deployment, mobilizing private investment and supporting the government in adopting innovative energy solutions (2019-2023, $14 million).

Renewable Energy Transition Progress

Vietnam still has a long way to go before renewable energy governs most of its energy sector. Still, it has made significant progress toward that goal. Renewable energy sources in Vietnam are growingly significant in energy policies and are a sustainable answer to electricity needs in developing countries.

Vincenzo Caporale
Photo: Flickr

Agent Orange Cleanup As the United States fought its campaign against North Vietnamese forces during the Vietnam War, part of the military’s strategy included the deployment of Agent Orange, a chemical weapon used to defoliate jungles to expose enemy positions. The toxin was heavily used and has had disastrous health and environmental effects. Now, the United States is leading Agent Orange cleanup efforts in Vietnam. USAID is taking the charge to continue its environmental restoration efforts.

USAID’s Agent Orange Cleanup Commitment

In December 2020, USAID announced that it would commit to contributing an additional $20 million to cleaning up Agent Orange residue around the Bien Hoa Airbase, a major military base used by the United States during the Vietnam War. The airbase was used to store various types of munitions, including chemical weapons such as Agent Orange.

This adds to the $90 million that has already been committed to cleaning up the area around the Bien Hoa Airbase. Planning for the multi-year cleanup operation will be conducted by Trigon Associates, a woman-owned business based in Louisiana.

This recent contribution is part of USAID’s wider Environmental Remediation program, which seeks to decontaminate areas with high concentrations of residual Agent Orange throughout Vietnam. USAID has already completed a major decontamination project in Danang, which remediated 32.4 hectares between 2012 and 2018 at a cost of $110 million.

The current decontamination effort in Bien Hoa is set to last until 2030 and is projected to cost upwards of $183 million. According to USAID, Bien Hoa is the last remaining Agent Orange hotspot in Vietnam. These Agent Orange cleanup efforts are significant as they cleanse Vietnam of a chemical toxin that has been a source of much human and environmental suffering that has lingered for decades.

Agent Orange: Health Impact

According to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, exposure to Agent Orange is linked to Hodgkin’s disease, ischemic heart disease, Parkinson’s and prostate cancer, among other life-threatening illnesses. Its widespread use means that an untold number of both U.S. veterans and Vietnamese civilians were exposed to the toxin and are at risk of developing these conditions.

Agent Orange exposure has also been linked to birth defects in the children of those who have been exposed. An analysis by ProPublica indicated that the likelihood of having children born with birth defects was more than one-third higher for veterans exposed to Agent Orange versus those who were not.

In addition to causing the grave environmental harm of defoliation, Agent Orange has caused multi-generational human suffering. After spraying more than 20 million gallons of the defoliate over a period of 10 years between 1961 and 1971, the United States is now leading the campaign to clean up harmful residue and protect the people of Vietnam from further exposure.

International Partnership Between Old Foes

The fight against global poverty breaks down barriers and fosters closer ties between international partners, even ones that were once engaged in protracted conflict. Where the United States and Vietnam were once enemies, they are now cooperating in the Agent Orange cleanup, undoing the lingering effects of a brutal war and paving the way for mutually beneficial economic development.

– John Andrikos
Photo: Flickr

Vietnam’s PovertyVietnam is a country in Southeast Asia. Although there are still a fair amount of impoverished citizens in Vietnam, the percentage of people living in poverty has dropped significantly from 2008 to 2010. Ever since then, Vietnam’s poverty has been gradually decreasing annually.

Vietnam’s Poverty Rates in the Past

In 1992, around 94% of citizens lived with under $5.50 per day. Numbers have been improving by small percentages every year since then. However, the greatest significant change was from 2008 to 2010 when the rate of impoverished citizens went from around 78% to 47%. Since 2010, numbers have gone to around 36% in 2014. In 2018, the percentage of those living in poverty was around 23%.

Vietnam’s Present Poverty Rates

In 2019, preliminary data displays that Vietnam’s GDP has increased by 7%. The GDP per capita has reached $2,700. That same year, around 45 million people were uplifted from poverty. Currently, the country has one of the fastest-growing rates in the region. Vietnam has changed from low to a middle-income country. Those who still remain in poverty are usually citizens who are ethnic minorities.

Living in Vietnam

Ella Ha was born in Vietnam during the Vietnam War. She grew up in Saigon, Vietnam. Ella spent most of her childhood there, and she has witnessed how much the city has changed since the war. She agreed to speak on her experiences living in Vietnam.

When asked what was different about her birth city present day compared to the past, Ella said, “the method of transportation, the amount of food and the buildings are what changed the most. During the war, many people did not have the luxury to eat several foods that are offered today. Also, the buildings are now more advanced compared to what we had back then.”

During the interview she stated, “it’s evident that poverty levels have decreased in the city. Although there are still homeless people, the majority of the citizens I see in the city wear pretty clothes and have good food to eat. Back then, I would eat bread with my family if we could not afford sausages or chicken.”

Ella adds, “a lot has changed since the Vietnam War, but it is for the better.”

Government Intervention

Since the early 1990s, the Vietnamese government has been directly trying to reduce poverty by providing the impoverished with credit, housing and food. The government also launched the Hunger Eradication and Poverty Reduction Programme (HEPR) in 1998. Since then, hunger rates have been decreasing at an accelerated speed. Every year, the program would broadcast their goal on television on helping those with chronic diseases, in poverty and facing famine. This helps remind all citizens that such issues are still relevant, and it gathers support and donations from the community.

Overall, Vietnam’s poverty rates have improved since the last three decades. From slightly decreasing to seeing a drastic change, the future of the country looks positive. With the help from the communities and the government, Vietnam’s poverty percentages will gradually drop even more and eventually diminish.

Megan Ha
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Vietnam
For the past 20 years, Vietnam has become a major exporter of foreign brides to East Asian countries such as South Korea, Japan, China and Taiwan. These countries are all experiencing low birthrates and are unable to replace their populations and continuing economic growth without help from migration in various forms. In China alone, an estimated 100,000 Vietnamese foreign brides exist. Marriage migration offers hope for some to improve standards of living for Vietnamese women but also leaves them susceptible to becoming victims of human trafficking during the process. Here is some information about human trafficking in Vietnam and some of its nearby countries.

High Risks of Women Becoming Victims of Human Trafficking

There is little governmental oversight on the Vietnamese side of marriage migration, which means that potential brides are vulnerable to brokers and criminal elements in the process of migrating abroad. Although many choose to migrate abroad voluntarily, fees often exist when hiring marriage brokers. Upon arriving in receiving countries, the visa status for foreign brides ties to the new husband, which creates a power imbalance that men can easily exploit.

The porous borderland region between China and Vietnam is particularly problematic for women living in economically challenged northern provinces of Vietnam. Traffickers moved at least 3,000 women and children from Vietnam to China from 2012-2017 for purposes of marriage migration and sex trafficking. Many were victims of rape and physical abuse in transit and China. On the Chinese side, there is little transparency on the true figures of marriage migrants, regardless of whether the foreign brides were there willingly or not.

Lack of Protection for Victims of Abuse

Several scandals involving foreign brides from Vietnam and other countries have rocked South Korea over the past 10 years with their South Korean husbands beating them, and in some cases, murdering them. South Korean government programs and NGOs have provided more protective measures to address these tragedies, but many foreign brides still avoid these groups out of the concern they might lose their visa status and have to go back to Vietnam. In 2015, reports determined that four out of 10 international marriages in South Korea ended in divorce within the first five years of the marriage, leading the Korean government to place more restrictions on marriage migration.

In China, human trafficking networks brought in an estimated 5% of Vietnamese foreign brides and initially sold them into prostitution upon their arrival. When living in China, some new husbands imprison their foreign brides and sell them repeatedly to different partners in a form of modern-day slavery. If victims are able to escape, they quickly undergo deportation back to Vietnam.

If foreign brides escape or decide to return to Vietnam after a failed or abusive marriage overseas, NGOs such as Blue Dragon, Pacific Links and others in Vietnam have to fill in to assist these women, rather than governmental agencies in many instances. During the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations like these are struggling to provide adequate support for returnees and will need additional help to properly provide care to citizens.

How to Address These Risk Factors

The Blue Dragon NGO offers a variety of services for victims of human trafficking in Vietnam, including psychosocial support for trauma, legal representation and providing emergency shelter for recent victims. To date, it has directly rescued nearly 600 women from brothels and forced marriages (mostly in China) and assisted the police with an additional 627 cases to help women return to their villages in Vietnam.

Pacific Links focuses on prevention through awareness and also reintegration for victims of human trafficking in Vietnam. Another important measure it assists with is working with and providing training for local government agencies and border guards. It also offers academic scholarships to young girls in high-risk areas for human trafficking in Vietnam.

South Korea has been showing positive steps in offering classes in cultural awareness and the South Korean language for newly arrived Vietnamese spouses. The South Korean government has reportedly budgeted $100 million per year to fund these programs. It could also expand these programs and encourage them in other East Asian countries to raise more general awareness of the risk factors involved in transnational marriages.

The government of Vietnam in recent years is making more of an effort to address human trafficking through awareness campaigns, legal representation for victims and lengthening time periods for shelter and financial assistance. Penalties for human traffickers have also stiffened as a punitive measure, with convicted individuals facing five to 10 years imprisonment and steep fines.

Conclusion

 Widespread marriage migration will likely continue throughout Asia as birth rates continue to drop throughout the developed parts of the region. As immigration procedures tighten for labor migration, marriage migration has become a loophole that while technically legal, must still undergo monitoring to ensure protection for Vietnamese women who participate.

– Matthew Brown
Photo: Flickr

Lack of Skilled Workers in Vietnam
In Vietnam, skilled laborers are a commodity. Only 12% of Vietnam’s 57 million workers are highly skilled. The Vietnamese Government decided to enter into a socialist market economy in the late 1980s. It aimed to mitigate the sluggish economy’s failure to meet goals. Still, there is a lack of skilled workers in Vietnam specializing in IT and other high-tech sectors to allow the economy to flourish. However, the World Bank drafted a new higher education plan in April 2020. The Higher Education Reform Agenda (HERA) sought to stimulate development in areas that Vietnam’s former education plan missed.

Lack of Skilled Workers in Developing Countries

The lack of skilled workers in Vietnam is not a new problem. One-third of the working-aged population in low- and middle-income countries are not skilled enough for a higher paying job. The lack of skilled workers keeps these countries stuck in poverty with people earning less income and enduring poorer living conditions. Vietnam was once one of the poorest countries in the world after recovering from 30 years of war. It is now a lower-middle-income country despite having a higher education enrollment rate lower than most other ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries.

Vietnam’s Growing Economy

Vietnam’s GDP has been growing steadily, increasing by 7% in 2019. Furthermore, Vietnam is soon to be one of the fastest-growing economies alongside India and Bangladesh. In Vietnam’s race for growth between 2002 and 2018, the country’s GDP per capita increased by 2.7 times, surpassing $2,700 in 2019 and 45 million people left poverty. Vietnam has been encountering major successes that promise better living conditions in the future. Still, the country has work to do. The lack of skilled workers in Vietnam remains dire. With the proper education and training, people can benefit from more employment opportunities, higher incomes and improved standards of living.

HERA Takes a Step Toward Improvements

Acknowledging Vietnam’s need for an economic boost, the Vietnamese Government drafted the Higher Education Reform Agenda (HERA) in 2005. According to the HERA, the country would improve higher education between the years 2006 and 2020. The HERA projected goals that included hitting 45% higher education enrollments by 2020, employing 35% of academic staff with a doctorate degree in comparison to 15% and providing funding for university research.

Though experts in education and economics deemed the HERA overly ambitious and without structure, it had some success. The World Bank observed mostly substantial improvement in higher education by 2015. For example, in 2005, HERA sought to hire 60% of tertiary education teachers holding a master’s degree and 35% of teachers with a doctorate. Although the number of teachers with a doctorate had barely increased from 23%, 59% of tertiary teachers had a master’s degree by 2016.

Strategy to Improve Higher Education

In April 2020, the World Bank created a report outlining specific goals to increase Vietnam’s universities’ production of human capital. The report, entitled “Improving the Performance of Higher Education in Vietnam,” drew up specific goals for Vietnam’s universities to reach by 2030 using success stories like the state of California, the U.K. and South Korea. With implementation, the report will create a universal focus across bank and government entities to improve funding, enrollment and equity.

The plans involve increasing the number of applicants, improving the curriculum, creating structured application processes to accept more talented students, funding research more and being more inclusive towards ethnic minorities and lower-income Vietnamese students. The report addresses establishing links with industries and the private sector earlier on in students’ higher education. This would occur by providing internships and partnerships between students and companies to ensure relevant, proficient skilled work results.

The government still has a lot of work to do regarding the lack of skilled workers in Vietnam. Fortunately, plans are underway to invest in greater human capital. With better coordination between its market, government and educational forces, Vietnam will soon effectively produce workers qualified enough to boost the economy.

Alyssa Ranola
Flickr

coffee in vietnamThe comforting routine of having a rich cup of coffee in the morning is a habit shared by numerous people around the world. Unique flavors and distinctive brews come from various countries such as Brazil, Colombia and Indonesia. Vietnam, once an underdog in the coffee industry, has now become one of the top coffee exporters in the world. As a new major contender in the international coffee trade, Vietnam faces new economic opportunities moving forward. Importantly, coffee in Vietnam has the potential for reducing poverty.

How Coffee in Vietnam Took Root

French colonists introduced coffee in Vietnam in 1857. The central highlands region, Buon Ma Thuot, had ideal growing conditions for the crop. Accordingly, it became a target region for coffee cultivation. Growing coffee in Vietnam proved to be difficult yet promising. The government encouraged citizen migration to rural regions such as Buon Ma Thot, which gained a 265% increase in the overall population. By the end of 2000, over 4 million people settled in this area, which created a new and expansive workforce for the coffee industry. This new workforce, combined with the government’s coffee-growing program and the increased demand for coffee worldwide, created a boom in Vietnam’s economy.

In the span of just two decades, Vietnam became one of the most competitive coffee producers in the world. It now ranks as the 2nd largest coffee exporter behind Brazil. Starting with 8,400 tons of coffee produced in 1980, production numbers skyrocketed to 900,000 by 2000. Coffee production has contributed to Vietnam’s GDP increasing by 7.7% within the past few years. Unexpectedly, coffee became an important player in the Vietnamese economy.

Challenges Brewing Within the Industry

Two main types of coffee beans, Robusta and Arabica, compose most of the beans exported by countries worldwide. Currently, 95% of Vietnamese coffee exports are Robusta, known as lower quality beans. As a result, the success of Robusta in the market depends on fluctuations in global demand. Vietnam’s coffee industry must account for this variable by improving the flavor and quality of beans harvested in Buon Ma Thuot to remain competitive in the worldwide market.

But remaining competitive in the market is no easy task. Unlike globally known brands such as 100% Colombian coffee, Vietnam still needs to establish its trademark in the international market. Currently, processed coffee accounts for only 7% of Vietnam’s exports. Increasing coffee processing by establishing joint ventures with known retailers and roasters could create new opportunities for the industry. If Vietnamese brands become household names, Vietnamese coffee can garner substantially greater profit margins in the global market.

In addition to increasing coffee quality and ameliorating marketing tactics, Vietnam’s farming strategies must improve. Though Robusta is typically more resilient to environmental stressors, such as hot climates, pests and disease, this coffee crop is still susceptible to the dangers of unsustainable farming practices. Farming strategies that rely on intensive irrigation and the overuse of fertilizers can exhaust soil quality.

To combat land degradation, Vietnam’s government collaborates with global companies such as Kraft Foods and Nestlé. It also works with conservation organizations such as the 4C Association, Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade Foundation. Together, they educate farmers, improve farming practices and establish an agricultural standard. This works to effectively and sustainably increase the production of coffee in Vietnam.

Solving Poverty One Cup at a Time

The significant surge in coffee production in Vietnam also means countless farmers and citizens gain a newfound source of income. With only 6% of total coffee production used domestically, coffee has become Vietnam’s key export. Coffee production provides a livelihood for around 2.6 million people. Importantly, 600,000 of these individuals are small-scale farmers, many of whom belong to underrepresented social groups.

This emerging industry has allowed Vietnam’s economy to vastly improve within a short span of time. Economic growth continuously boosts Vietnamese citizens’ quality of life. In 1994, Vietnam’s poverty rate was at 90%. As of 2020, the poverty rate has lowered to 23%.

Global corporations also take part in developing Vietnam’s coffee industry and helping farmers. Nestlé and Mondelez International have each invested more than $200 million in training farmers to distribute stable supplies of coffee. In 2015, Starbucks introduced Vietnam Da Lat, its first single-origin coffee from Vietnam, to its locations in more than 50 countries. Altogether, more than 21,000 farmers benefited from foreign investments in this booming industry.

Overall, coffee in Vietnam is a growing industry with many future possibilities. With the right policies and guidance, Vietnam’s coffee industry can further improve its economy, provide income opportunities and increase standards of living for countless communities nationwide.

-Vanna Figueroa
Photo: flicker