Ethical consumption in Saigon: The story of Sozo

On my last day in Saigon, I had the chance to pop into Sozo, a popular cafe in the backpacker area of the city. It was an unexpected find but also thoroughly delightful once I learnt that it based its operations on a model of ethical consumerism. I didn't have the time to fully appreciate the place but I gleaned a bit of information about its operations.

The Sozo story started back in 1997 when there were many children and families living on the streets with no future. So they started looking for a practical way to give them a more stable life. Sozo was established in 2005 to help underprivileged Vietnamese families to break the cycle of debt, be trained for employment and have the opportunity of a new start in life.

Like many businesses with a focus on ethical consumption, Sozo started small - in this case, with one woman selling America-style cookies in a push-cart for expats and tourists. Many of the employees are differently-abled and all of them are trained in baking and other skills so that they can live a different life if they choose to.

Of all the myriad cafes, bars and restaurants operating out of Saigon, this one is different. It uses its business model to improve the lives of its workforce and help them to earn a livelihood which otherwise may not have been possible for them. They also work with children and young people to improve their lives and offer them a chance at safe employment. With the help of C.A.C.E.T Global (Child Abuse, Consultancy, Education, and Training) Sozo has a comprehensive Child and Young Person Protection Policy.

Sozo is also considerably more expensive than a lot of other cafes in the city. But when you consider that 100% of all profit is used for staff  training, development and education, you know your money is going someplace worth it. Sozo comes from the Greek word which means 'to save'. For an enterprise that is doing its best to help street children and disabled people live a better life, it seems appropriate.