Bong Pheak — Combating human trafficking through an employment information website

The garment industry in Cambodia has been one of the driving forces for the county’s national growth. With an estimated 1 million people working in factories producing clothes, shoes and equipment for some of the world’s biggest brands, the industry is clearly an employment powerhouse in Kingdom.

Yet the allure of promises of higher wages in Thailand, Malaysia or China and a lack of information about jobs for low-skilled workers in Cambodia has led to large numbers of the country’s rural poor being at risk of labour trafficking.

As part of its countrywide efforts to reduce susceptibility to human trafficking, USAID, through non-profits Winrock and Open Institute, has created the Bong Pheak employment website; and is very pleased with its popularity.

“We thought, why don’t we make our trafficking prevention efforts more sustainable by creating a website and listing jobs that can help counter the root causes of trafficking in Cambodia,” explained Jean-Marc Gorelick, Deputy Director of the Office of Democracy and Governance at USAID.

“It is a huge success,” he added, noting that by better promoting domestic jobs, Thailand’s pull factor and the risk of trafficking in the fishing and construction sectors there was being countered.

“We have been able to get a lot of job placement from the website, which is great.”

The website is getting more than 26,000 unique visitors a month, leading to over 750 monthly applications for jobs from almost 600 private sector companies or associations listing on the site.

The website itself has been created by Open Institute, a Phnom Penh based non-profit that seeks to utilise technology and data for social good.

“The obvious action was to improve access to unskilled and low-skilled work in Cambodia by providing information about jobs to those who needed it most. The main problem was that those who needed it most did not have access to the internet and were difficult to find,” explained Programme Director Javier Sola.

“We designed a system that would use the same channel that those workers would use to find their first job (a relative who was already working). We would provide job information to that relative, and this person would relay it to the worker, through a sophisticated IVR system (automatic phone calls) that would describe the job and allow the potential worker to apply.”

By using thousands of pre-recorded voice messages, Bong Pheak is able to make effective use of Open Institutes extensive IVR experience in Cambodia to clearly and concisely inform potential workers about job opportunities.

And the service has so far been a huge success with its target market of low-skilled and unskilled workers, Javier said.

“We have exceeded our growth expectations, and we are ready for the next challenge: making the service sustainable.”

While the initial USAID funding and support allowed Bong Pheak to get to the stage it is now, the platform is looking to become fully sustainable. And that will require charging fees for job advertisers, and external investment, Javier noted.

“The system is expected to continue to grow to become the largest employment service in Cambodia, as there is much more unskilled employment than skilled jobs.”

At Geeks in Cambodia, we are always impressed by the way that technology is utilised to offer clear solutions to existing challenges here, and Bong Pheak seems to do just that — give the people that most need information about jobs in Cambodia, easy access to that information. We look forward to seeing how the platform develops and grows to further support Cambodians across the country.