Almost every house in Thai Binh Province's Lich Dong village carries a signboard advertising eye-glasses.
Boxes of Chinese components line the floors of these homes, where cheap sun and reading glasses are assembled and then shipped out to cities throughout the north.
Despite zero intervention from the relevant authorities, eye doctors say that cheap eyeglasses, particularly sunglasses, can cause permanent damage to consumers.
During a visit to one shop near the village market recently, reporters found thousands of boxes of glasses stacked on the ground.
Hundreds of larger boxes in the back contained frames and lenses wrapped in packaging covered in Chinese characters.
The shop always has two or three employees putting them together.
It takes roughly a minute to finish assembling a single pair of glasses and the shop churns out hundreds of pairs per day.
Eye glasses being assembled in Lich Dong village in Thai Binh Province. Photo: Nguyen Tuan
D., the owner of the home factory, said all of the components are imported from China.
“We charge VND6,000 (less than 3 cents) for a cheap pair and VND45,000 (around US$2) an expensive one,” he said.
Some families in the village buy whole pairs of glasses in China to resell to retailers.
They charge VND70,000 for a pair of sunglasses which they import for VND12,000 before inscribing luxury brand names on the frames like Rayban, Wansha, Gucci, or Chanel.
Without the brand names, a pair only costs between VND5,000-8,000.
D. and several of his colleagues arranged a meeting between an undercover Thanh Nien reporter and their Chinese-Vietnamese supplier who has spent almost ten years wholesaling Chinese eyeglass components in Lich Dong.
The paper identified him only as T.
He was said to own a large factory that produces frames and lenses in Guangzhou.
“You’ve found the cheapest supply. And I have as many as you want, whatever you want,” T. said in fluent Vietnamese.
Pro: creating jobs
Pham Van Quang, chairman of Dong Cac Commune which includes the village, said he’s aware of the rampant eyeglass business in the area, but “cannot know” the amount or the origin of the glasses.
"The commune supports the (eye-wear) business, so it doesn’t look nice if I interrupt it" -- Phi Nhat To, a district market manager.
"That's outside our jurisdiction,” Quang said.
He said the eyeglass makers are overseen by district market managers, who never informed the commune government of the issue, like whether the glasses or their component parts were illicitly smuggled.
Phi Nhat To, chief market manager of Dong Hung District, said the commune’s official policy is to let the businesses develop to create jobs in a depressed area.
To said there was a time his staff and the economic police went after shipments of poor quality glasses, but that became “problematic.”
“The commune supports the business, so it doesn’t look nice if I interrupt it,” he said.
Most of the products don’t have label origins, but invoice checks showed they were smuggled over the Chinese border.
To said there are 12 major eyeglass providers in the area and countless small-scale factories.
His team hasn't carried out a single inspection of those businesses so far this year.
A man assembles a pair of glasses in Lich Dong Commune, Thai Binh Province, using no measurement equipment for those for short- or far-sightedness. Photo: Nguyen Tuan
Con: damaging eyes
Dr Nguyen Duc Anh, head of the refraction department at the Central Ophthalmology Hospital in Hanoi, said the cheap, widely available sunglasses are made from poor-quality plastic that cannot filter ultraviolet rays.
The shoddy plastic lenses also reduce light filtered into the eye, forcing the pupil to dilate and receive more UV rays, Anh said.
UV rays can cause cataracts, damage retinas and hamper one’s vision.