Notes from the Field: CCLP Researcher Shares Trafficking Update from Vietnam

Researcher Zhaleh Boyd is conducting a fact-finding mission in Vietnam in conjunction with the CCLP Technology and Trafficking in Persons initiative. Boyd, a 2010 Thomas R. Pickering Graduate Foreign Affairs Fellow, reports in from the mid-way point of her trip on her latest findings on human trafficking in Asia and the Pacific Rim.

I have just completed the first week of my 16-day research trip to Vietnam. This week was spent in the Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), Vietnam’s boomtown.
The first week of this trip was organized by Candace Burnham, a graduating Public Diplomacy masters candidate (MPD) and State Department campus representative, who was an intern at the US Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City last summer. A total of five MPD students are participating in this trip, and we are each investigating personal areas of interest in public diplomacy within Vietnam.Still referred to as Saigon, HCMC has all the excitement and intensity of an adolescent in the throes of rapid development, vying for elbow room amidst its architectural ancestors that refuse to be forgotten from pre-colonial, colonial, and reunification eras.

My topic of investigation is the role of communications in both perpetuating and combating human trafficking in Vietnam. My research is part of a larger research project underway at CCLP, called Technology & Trafficking in Persons. This project was launched in the
summer of 2010 at the request of the Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (G/TIP) and the Office of Innovation. Technology & Trafficking in Persons is researching methods for addressing this endemic and elusive crime both in Southern California and in the Mekong Subregion.

This week, my colleagues and I met with several governmental organizations and non-governmental organizations throughout the region, such as the Foreign Commercial Service, the Canadian Consulate, Habitat for Humanity Vietnam, the US Consulate, and East Meets West Foundation. Each of these organizations have very different interactions with the issue of human trafficking in Vietnam, and therefore provided a wide variety of answers to the questions that I posed on the issue of human trafficking.

Human trafficking in Vietnam registers many of the usual suspects found worldwide: multi-tiered crimes, cross-border ramifications, lack of empirical data, several precedents but few norms, corruption within anti-trafficking initiatives, victims too terrified to testify, and lack of cohesion among concerned parties. However, there are several aspects of human trafficking in this country that seem unique to the history and socio-political environment here.

One unique aspect of anti-trafficking efforts is that it is extremely difficult for foreign-based NGOs to obtain license to operate within Vietnam. One NGO representative explained that they have to choose to either do advocacy or implementation; you can’t do both. That particular NGO must partner with both an external organization to conduct its trafficking prevention program and with a Vietnamese government office to supervise all activities. The International Justice Mission, a faith-based NGO that had been operating anti-trafficking programs in Vietnam for approximately 20 years, recently was stripped of its operating license and is no longer present. Because NGOs must be fully considerate of the operating stipulations delineated by the Vietnamese government, coordinating various anti-trafficking initiatives and services proves to be far more complicated than it is in neighboring Cambodia and Thailand.

Another interesting aspect of human trafficking in Vietnam is that while the urban areas have high internet connectivity and mobile phone penetration, the rural areas–most prone to trafficking–are extremely lacking in both communications and transportation development.
Therefore, prevention models focus on providing local economic and educational opportunities in order to offer viable alternatives to migration, rather than on communications tools for monitoring and raising awareness.

Over this next week, I’m travelling in Hanoi, Vietnam’s more conservative capital in the north. I will be meeting with larger international organizations, such as the International Organization on Migration, the UN Inter-agency Project on Human Trafficking, as well as with various members of Vietnam’s national government. I am looking forward to the insights that both levels of perspective will bring to this research.

For more information about Boyd’s trip to Vietnam, visit the USC Annenberg website.