Viet Nam

Nestlé and child labour

Xin Chào from Sa Pa,

     At our school in the city – where the majority of our clientele are of Asian descent – it’s sometimes difficult to invoke the spectre of child labour as a problem ie. as an undesirable element of a business plan. This is understandable in a culture where children muck in from an early age.

child labour in the supply chain

But when multinational food conglomerate Nestlé was recently voted as the most unethical company in the world (ahead of the banks! ahead of the pharmaceutical companies! ahead, even of Monsanto!) we set out to discover why. It turns out that it’s lingering allegations of child labour in their production chain which have soiled their reputation as much as anything else.

on the road Sa Pa

    We are in the mountains in the very north of Việt Nam, as close to the border with China as one can get without crossing it. In the various homestays we visit, we live with the families and experience the way they live. This includes the way everyone fulfills different responsibilities. And that’s not necessarily by parental edict but simply because everyone from a very early age naturally looks around, sees what needs to be done, and gets in and does it. It’s a sub-culture which begets a lot of positives, including ones that some of us have lost.

terraces Sa Pa

     Our trek takes us through the mountain villages of the Hmong people and the Zhau people and the Tay people. These people are agriculturalists. They grow rice, vegetables and indigo on the terraced hills. And their ancestors have farmed here in this way for more than a thousand years. Today they find themselves on the edge of a transitioning society, in danger of their culture disappearing forever. 

  These are villages where the unwritten motto is “Needs must”. Here the connection between food source and consumption is well understood. Furthermore, it’s also where ADHD is unknown and where everybody helps where they can. This is also where the village teacher has to round up the pupils by knocking on their doors, and at certain times of the year the kids miss school because they are needed in the padis.

unsolicited help from the kids

On one night of our trek, we stayed with Ze’s family. Her children fetched the buffaloes for their night housing, cut the firewood and chopped the vegetables for dinner. All of this was unsolicited. When we in the western world rail – justifiably – against child labour, this is clearly not what we object to. 

The school is the centre of the village.

   Today we saw a motorbike moving around the steep, misty paths with three on board: a rider in control with two tiny pillion passengers. The total age could not gave been ten years. They were obviously needed somewhere else. 

child labour from different perspectives

   When Business Management students learn that Nestlé might have child labour in their supply chain, they can’t quite see the problem. So what, they ask? It’s not hard to see their confusion.

Hẹn gặp lại from Sa Pa


Other photos from hereabouts

Sa Pa
a break in the trek

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