LABOR IN VIETNAM: WORK ETHIC, MIGRANTS, WOMEN, LABOR SHORTAGES AND WORK CONDITIONS

LABOR IN VIETNAM

Vietnam over the past decade has seen rapid yet comprehensive change. A fast growing economy is resulting in changes to the economic structures of society. More and more people are now employed in the manufacturing and services sector with the contribution of agriculture to GDP declining. Similarly the share of the labor force in the public sector has declined relative to the private sector with wage and self employment emerging as a viable option. With Vietnam’s economic integration into the world economy, the pace of change will further increase.

Labor force: 49.18 million (2012 est.), country comparison to the world: 13. Labor force - by occupation: agriculture: 48 percent; industry: 21 percent; services: 31 percent (2012). In 2004 services accounted for 38.2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). During 1994–2004, GDP attributable to the services sector grew at an average annual rate of 6.0 percent. [Source: CIA World Factbook, Library of Congress]

Unemployment rate: 4.5 percent (2012 est.), country comparison to the world: 40; 4.5 percent (2011 est.). In 2004 the unemployment rate in urban areas was 5.6 percent, down from 5.8 percent in 2003 and 6.0 percent in 2002. In the 1990s, by one estimate 25 million people, or 60 percent of the labor force, was unemployed or underemployed. And the situation was only getting worse as 1 million new jobseekers entered the labor market every year. Even today the government and private enterprise need to create 1 million jobs each year just to keep up with young Vietnamese entering the workforce.

The Vietnamese come across as very hardworking and industrious. Everywhere you look in both Hanoi and Saigon people seem very busy: building, repairing, sewing, serving and carrying. Many people rise at dawn, work10 to 12 hours, seven days a week. The expression"Your face to the earth, your back to the sun” describes the hardworking Vietnamese farmer. Despite all this labor in Vietnam is less productive than labor in Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Many Vietnamese experts believe Vietnam's biggest problem is it lack of skilled mangers and inability of the education system to produce skilled, motivated workers.

Prior to his arrest and imprisonment in August 2006, labor activist Huynh Viet Lang said in February 2006: “Instead of concentrating on excelling in the legal and banking systems and providing an effective infrastructure to attract foreign investments, the Vietnamese government has blindly grasped cheap labor as the only token in their strategic planning to lure foreign investors. [Source: Human Rights Watch, May 2, 2009]

Gender and Economic Roles in Vietnam

The wife is the family treasurer and keeper of the family gold. The father and the children often help their mother in the kitchen. Often the wife is the business-head of the family and operates any financial endeavor which it undertakes. Such a business may be a small store, a mobile sidewalk cafeteria, etc. She is not normally a pedicab operator or a fisherman at sea, although she is often a fishmonger or peddler.

According to Encyclopedia of Sexuality: "Nearly all the country’s market stalls today are run by women. Though they are more often small merchants, it is interesting that the richest private capitalist in Vietnam today is also a woman. Not only do women form the overwhelming majority of all active merchants in the country, they constitute the majority of the customers as well. As O’Harrow (1995) points out, in spite of the male role of provider, which is implicit in the Confucian paradigm, Vietnamese mothers raise their daughters to understand, if not explicitly, then by example, that they should always have their own money and cannot depend on men. [Source: Encyclopedia of Sexuality, 2.hu-berlin.de/sexology \*/ ]

"The most commonly acquired commodity for this kind of female protective investment is jewelry, preferably in unalloyed gold or with recognizable gems. Young girls quietly watch their mother’s elaborate systems of boxes, jars, purses, hidden floor boards, and furtive containers of every kind and dimension, never opened in the father’s presence. They observe and learn. The extraordinary interest Vietnamese women appear to take in jewelry is commonly misunderstood by outsiders as simple vanity. But in fact the precious contents are considered the mother’s property and will stay with her should she leave." \*/

Work Ethic in Vietnam

On the large amount of socializing that seems to take place during work hours in Vietnam, Harry Dickson, an American living in Ho Chi Minh City told the Viet News, “ There is nothing wrong in trying to reduce work pressure and creating a friendly and relaxing office atmosphere. But I feel Vietnamese do not know where to draw the line. For example, chatting or sharing a snack with colleagues is part and parcel of office life. But playing games on the office network or slicing open a water melon at the work desk is surely going beyond office protocol! Some people might well argue that setting the limit or boundary for appropriate behaviour is a matter of cultural preferences. If employees do not behave in a manner that their employers see fit, then they cannot complain when they are not promoted or as well rewarded as someone who shows professionalism in their working attitude. On a deeper level, the casualness shown by the Vietnamese tends to spill over into their work performance. So this has a much more serious consequence than just the lack of office decorum. [Source: Viet News, August, 7 2008 /||\]

Roy Little, an American in Ho Chi Minh City, told the Viet News: “It is common practice for managers, particularly senior managers, to be out of the office enhancing their "personal" relationships and conducting "social" intercourse on a daily basis. This kind of behaviour demonstrates a disregard for personal responsibility and accountability which is the real problem. Is it any wonder that workers have little motivation or loyalty to a company when they have such role models? Recently, I had a conversation with a young man from Hanoi who had just accepted a new job in Ho Chi Minh City. I asked him if he preferred to live and work in Ho Chi Minh City. His response: "I would rather work in Hanoi. When we go to work in Hanoi (State-owned company) we show up and say "hello", and then we go out and have coffee with our friends for two hours. In the afternoon, we do the same." Any questions? /||\

Richard Clive Webb, a Briton in Ho Chi Minh City, told Viet News: “How easily differences in culture can be wrongly interpreted. I have lived and worked in Viet Nam for 14 years and our company employs 25 professionally qualified Vietnamese staff. I say as follows: 1) The siesta after lunch time is a cultural norm and is accounted for in total working hours. It raises staff efficiency for them to return to work refreshed. 2) In my experience hospital visits are done outside working hours. I find it touching that Vietnamese people take the time and trouble to visit sick colleagues (usually with some small gift) and that includes me when I have been sick. 3) I find my Vietnamese staff, on the whole, to be very hard working, interested in their work and attentive to their duties. 4) My view is that bad managers create bad employees. 5) Pay people properly, treat them with respect, be firm but fair, create a harmonious and friendly working environment and they will respond accordingly. /||\

Labor in Vietnam in the 1980s

The Vietnamese labor force in mid-1985 was estimated at 31.2 million, having increased at the rate of 3.5 to 4 percent annually between 1981 and mid-1985. A 1987 Vietnamese estimate put unemployment at more than 20 percent. More than half of the work force was committed to agriculture; however, observers estimated that the unemployment level in the agricultural sector was very low because agricultural workers were more likely to be underemployed than unemployed. In contrast, the unemployment rate in the nonagricultural sector may have exceeded 40 percent, meaning that more than 2 out of every 5 Vietnamese workers were jobless. A similar calculation for the nonagricultural sector in 1981 yielded an estimate of 20 percent, or 1 out of 5. *

Unemployment was particularly concentrated among younger workers living in urban areas. According to Vietnamese government statistics, of the 7 million persons who entered the work force between 1981 and 1985, about 33 percent lived in urban areas, and only 15 to 20 percent reportedly had found jobs. The actual ratio of jobs to unemployed people may not have been as grim as statistics indicate, however. According to some observers, the high rate of inflation during the period forced many people, especially state workers, to take a second job in order to make ends meet. *

Vietnam's economic prospects for the late 1980s and early 1990s depended on resolving population and labor problems. Government population projections in 1987 showed that the gender imbalance, with females more numerous, probably would persist through the end of the century. National security concerns were unlikely to diminish, and the armed forces were expected to continue their high demand for males of service age. A similar demand also was expected to continue in the sectors and occupations in which males were employed during the 1980s: agriculture, fishing, mining, metallurgy, machine building, construction, and transportation. Female workers probably would remain concentrated in subsistence agriculture, light industry, and, perhaps, forestry. Education, training programs, and the wage structure were expected to continue to favor males and male-dominated occupations, while the absence of these incentives would cause productivity gains in female-intensive industries to remain low. *

Economic recovery policies that emphasized austerity and postponed industrialization were unlikely to create sufficient new employment opportunities. In the short run, the government's discharge of surplus state employees during the mid-1980s in order to curb expenditures would tend to increase unemployment. The stress on boosting production in light industry was expected eventually to reduce unemployment, but only if expansion were supported with state investment and bank credit. The coincident removal of restraints on the labor-intensive informal economy, which was uncontrolled by the state, and the likely influx of labor into this sector could then be expected to expand the informal economy relative to the official economy.

From Cadre to Manager in Vietnam

Margot Cohen wrote in the Far Eastern Economic Review, “Embracing a market system doesn't come naturally to most former managers of state-owned firms. In a transition economy like Vietnam's, "there's a huge amount of inertia to overcome," says Roger Ford, senior adviser for academic affairs at the Hanoi School of Business. "Many of these managers are 45 or 50 years old and suddenly everything they've been taught doesn't apply any more." In their former lives, wrapped in the prestigious mantle of state protection, they never made a single decision alone. And as government superiors dawdled over approvals, business opportunities whizzed right by. The first problem they face now is finding the confidence to take charge. "It takes at least two years for them to digest the idea that they are really free to make their own business decisions," says Pham Uyen Nguyen, deputy managing director of BaoViet Securities Company in Ho Chi Minh City. [Source: Margot Cohen, Far Eastern Economic Review, December 20, 2001 \>\]

“Nguyen Thanh Phuong finds the new pace frenetic but lucrative. As a vice-director of Thien Huong, a Ho Chi Minh City-based company that produces noodles and sauces, he's responsible for pumping out six new products each month--varying the contents and packaging to suit divergent tastes of customers in the north, south and central regions. "The pressure on managers of equitized companies is 30 times as much as in state firms," Phuong says. "We feel more pressure to create jobs, pay salaries and provide higher dividends for workers." Consensus-style decision-making has vanished. "We work very independently," he explains. "We have to decide by ourselves right away and take responsibility for those decisions." \>\

“Since the company went private in October 2000, Thien Huong has hired Japanese consultants, set up two separate units for marketing and product research and sent the entire marketing staff for short business courses. Monthly revenues have reached 27 billion-30 billion dong ($1.78 million-1.98 million), compared with just 18 billion-20 billion dong under state ownership. Managers are also adjusting to more freedom in dealing with recalcitrant employees. Under the state system, it was particularly difficult to fire anyone--even just a transfer of a politically well-connected employee could prompt an unpleasant backlash. \>\

“Nguyen Duc Thanh learned about customer care at the Hanoi School of Business and applied those lessons to the West Lake Recreation Park. He has no regrets over firing 30 staffers in the past year for speaking rudely to the park's visitors. "If a state company took over a park like this, they would never succeed," says Thanh, a former manager of a state-owned construction firm. "No one would speak sweetly to the customers and they would all run away." To drive the lessons home, Thanh recruited some business-school lecturers, and set up brainstorming sessions with employees on how to improve services to families. Motivation is also on display at Hanoi's Thach Ban Brick and Tile Share Company, which went private in November 1998. Nobody takes the local construction boom for granted any more--sales agents now pitch products directly to construction-site supervisors and homebuyers. \>\

“And at the Ham Long Joint Stock Company, heads of manufacturing units who don't meet their targets will bear the consequences. "We give them three months to work out a solution. If not, they will be assigned to other units," says Le Thang Loi, director of the Hanoi-based company. So far, Loi has been forced to transfer one unit head. Before the company went private in 1998, it was churning out clocks and watches. But Loi says they couldn't compete with cheaper products smuggled in from China. So it hired ambitious managers from outside, retrained workers and began making ping-pong tables--further proof that radical change can triumph over conservative instincts. \>\

Fake Job-Related Documents in Vietnam

Tri Quang wrote in Thanh Nien, “If you are illiterate and in poor health but want a job, go to Vietnam’s southern Dong Nai province where fake high school diplomas and health certificates to be attached with job applications are on sale. Thanh Nien correspondents located an agency in the provincial capital, Bien Hoa, selling such documents. "Dossiers on sale here" was scribbled in white chalk on a small board in front. A man in his 40s was inside. "I want to buy a complete set of documents to apply for a job but I do not have a diploma or other certificates except an ID card," one correspondent asked. [Source: Tri Quang, Thanh Nien, August 11, 2006 |*| ]

"VND500,000 ($31)," the man said, "and you will get all the required papers for job interviews including a certified copy of a high school graduation diploma, a temporary residence permit, a certificate on labor law, and a health certificate." "It is becoming more and more difficult; so the price is a bit high," he said apologetically. The correspondent agreed and received forms to fill. The man promised to take care of the rest, boasting the certification stamps on the diplomas belonged to the Dong Nai provincial government. At another place in Bien Hoa, this one an employment agency and a limited company, the same documents were offered at half the price. An employee showed us a sample notarized copy of a fake high school certificate. It had a red stamp, ostensibly belonging to Ho Chi Minh City’s Tan Binh district authorities, and was notarized by the head of the district’s judicial section. |*|

When one of us asked: "Would the agency return the money if ever I was fired because my employer found out the truth?" The agency’s manager blew up, swearing: "It is your business. We only make job application documents here." He offered other services including fake household booklets for VND600,000 ($37.5), computer certificates, and master copies of English certificates which he proudly called "hard cover". Thanh Nien also discovered another trick these labor agencies are up to: they sometimes put out fake job advertisements so that more job seekers would apply. The more applications there are, the more money these agencies earn as each application has to be accompanied by a nonrefundable deposit. On top, they also get a commission from each successful applicant. |*|

Wages, Hours and Working Conditions in Vietnam

Longest work weeks of 32 countries: 1) South Korea (55.1 hours); 2) Turkey (54.1 hours); 3) Taiwan (53.4 hours); 4) Vietnam (53.3 hours); 5) Egypt (52.9 hours). [Source: Roper Starch Worldwide, based on interviews in 2001 and 2001]

Men in Vietnam work 52.8 hours and women work 53.9 hours. [Source: Roper Starch Worldwide, based on interviews in 2001 and 2001]

According to a survey in 2006 by the Japan External Trade Organization, Vietnam's minimum monthly wage level was about US$50, significantly lower than India's $74, Indonesia's $90, the Philippines' $135, southern China's $92 and Thailand's $110. [Source: Karl John, Asia Times, January 12, 2007]

Monthly wages (2000): Taiwan ($1,205), Malaysia ($884), Philippines ($150), China ($65), Vietnam ($42) and Indonesia ($30).

In the 1990s police earned $16 a month, and teachers and doctors $25 a month. With such low salaries it is no surprise they take bribes and under-the-table payments and work side jobs to get by. At that time the salaries for government jobs were so low that doctors at state hospital sometimes had to work as janitors to make ends meet. The incentive was also great to skirt the system and make black market deals. A boatman, say, can makes as much off transporting one load of rice from the Mekong Delta to Saigon, a day's work, as an economist can from eight months of his or her salary. A lot of the available spending money came from relatives living abroad.

A popular money making scheme in Vietnam is to trap a female turtle dove. With it you can catch up to 20 males which you can sell in the market the next day.

As labor costs and other expenses in China have risen many factory owners—Taiwanese, Korean and Chinese—are taking their businesses to Vietnam. The typical wage for unskilled labor in the mid 2000s was $35 to $70 a month. There are cases of adults working 119 hours a week (17 hours a day, with no holidays).

Acceptable Conditions of Work

According to the U.S. Department of State: The law requires the government to set a minimum wage and adjust it based on consumer price index changes. New minimum wages took effect on October 1, as follows: the monthly minimum for unskilled laborers at private enterprises was between VND 1.78 million (approximately $85) and VND 2 million ($95) in urban areas, and VND 1.4 million ($67) and 1.55 million ($74) in rural areas. For employees working for the state sector, the monthly minimum was VND 830,000 ($40). The government defined the poverty line for the period 2011-15 as VND 400,000 ($19) per month for rural households and VND 500,000 ($24) for urban households. [Source: 2011 Human Rights Reports: Vietnam, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor,U.S. Department of State; 2011 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices Report, May 24, 2012 ***]

The government set the workweek for government employees and employees of companies in the state sector at 40 hours and encouraged the private business sector and foreign and international organizations that employed local workers to reduce the number of hours in the workweek to 40 hours, but it did not make compliance mandatory. The law sets normal working hours at eight hours per day, with a mandatory 24-hour break each week. Additional hours require overtime pay at one-and-one-half times the regular wage, two times the regular wage for weekdays off, and three times the regular wage for holidays and paid leave days. The law limits compulsory overtime to 16 hours per week and 200 hours per year but provides for an exception in special cases, with a maximum of 300 overtime hours worked annually, subject to stipulation by the government after consulting with the state-run Vietnam General Confederation of Labor (VGCL) and employer representatives. The law also prescribes annual leave with full pay for the public and private sectors. ***

The law requires the government to promulgate rules and regulations that provide for worker safety and provides that workers may remove themselves from hazardous conditions without risking loss of employment. By law a female employee who is engaged to be married, pregnant, on maternity leave, or caring for a child under one year of age may not be dismissed unless the enterprise closes. Female employees who are at least seven months’ pregnant or are caring for a child under one year of age may not be compelled to work overtime, at night, or in locations distant from their homes. ***

It was unclear how strictly the government enforced provisions for wages, hours, and benefits or the exceptions for certain female employees. the Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs (MOLISA), in coordination with local people’s committees and labor unions, is charged with enforcing the law, but enforcement was inadequate for many reasons, including low funding and a shortage of trained enforcement personnel. The VGCL asserted that authorities did not always prosecute violations. MOLISA acknowledged shortcomings in its labor inspection system, emphasizing that the country had an insufficient number of labor inspectors. There were approximately 140 general labor inspectors plus small numbers of additional inspectors focused on persons with disabilities, social insurance, export recruiting companies, etc. The VGCL stated, and MOLISA acknowledged, that low fines on firms for labor violations failed to act as an effective deterrent against violations. ***

There were credible reports that factories exceeded the legal overtime thresholds and did not meet legal requirements for rest days. A September ILO report noted that 66 of 78 apparel factories did not comply with legal overtime limits. On-the-job injuries due to poor health and safety conditions and inadequate employee training in the workplace remained a problem. The mining and construction sectors reported the greatest number of occupational injuries. In the first six months of the year, there were 3,531 occupational accidents and 273 deaths. For example, in April a stone mining accident killed 18 workers in Nghe An Province. The company had been fined twice in the previous year for poor safety standards, and authorities arrested the owner after the April incident for violating safety regulations. At year’s end prosecution proceedings had begun against the owner. ***

Inflation and Strikes Forces Minimum Wage Increases in Vietnam

According to Human Rights Watch, “Inflation in Vietnam, which reached 27 percent in the latter half of 2008, and the spiraling costs of food, fuel, and other consumer goods and a devaluing currency, threaten to push low-paid workers and their families further into poverty. After wildcat strikes began to escalate in 2006, the government increased the minimum monthly wage for workers at foreign-invested companies in most of Vietnam to 710,000 dong (US$44) a month. Wages for those working in foreign-invested companies in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and other industrial centers were raised to 870,000 dong (US$54)—a 40 percent increase, and the first such increase since 1999. Minimum wages at state-owned enterprises were raised to 450,000 dong (US$28) a month. [Source: Human Rights Watch, May 2, 2009 ^^^]

The wage increases did not stem labor discontent, as unprecedented numbers of workers—mostly at foreign-owned enterprises operated by South Korean, Japanese, Taiwanese, and Singaporean companies—continued to strike for better pay and working conditions. In November 2007, the government announced another wage increase. In legislation that came into effect in January 2008, minimum salaries for government workers and members of the armed forces were raised to 540,000 dong (US$33). Salaries for workers in domestic and foreign-invested companies were raised based on their factory’s location and whether investors were foreign or Vietnamese. Minimum monthly wages were increased to 540,000 dong (US$33) for Vietnamese enterprises throughout most of the country and slightly higher for companies in major cities and suburbs. Wages for workers in foreign-owned enterprises ranged from 800,000 dong (US$50) to 1 million dong (US$62) in foreign-owned factories in industrial centers such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Yet another wage increase, to 650,000 dong (US$36), went into effect May 1, 2009. Critics, including the US State Department, noted that the new wages fail to provide a decent standard of living to workers, especially given racing inflation. ^^^

Michael Karadjis wrote in the Green Left Weekly, “Minimum wages at foreign enterprises are already set at about double the domestic minimum wage. However, the domestic minimum of US$20 per month is an extremely low figure that virtually no-one is paid. It is a minimum safety net for small household businesses that employ poor farmers casually, in the "idle period" between crops, when any extra cash is welcome. According to Pham Minh Huan, director of MOLISA’s salary policy department, every employee at a state-owned enterprise (SOE) is paid more than the minimum — at least 35 percent higher for unskilled workers and 134 percent higher for newly recruited, skilled employees. On top of that, SOE employees share the profit via the bonus and welfare funds. When I visited a major state-owned cement plant last year, employees’ salaries ranged from $200-$250 per month, and at a major state paper mill, from around $120-$180. [Source: Michael Karadjis, Green Left Weekly, February 15, 2006 <|>]

“On the other hand, while the foreign-invested enterprise (FIE) minimum rate was designed as a bare minimum and companies were expected to designate appropriate salaries for workers based on skill levels, length of service and other factors, many FIEs paid unskilled workers the absolute minimum, and some paid their skilled workers only 1-2 percent higher. Thus in practice, many domestic firms, particularly state-owned firms, were paying higher than foreign firms despite having a minimum rate of only half the latter. Nguyen Thi Thanh Mai of MOLISA told the October 15 Viet Nam News that since the last minimum wage rise at foreign firms in 1999, the price of food and consumer goods had gone up nearly 40 percent and 25 percent respectively, and in practice, average monthly wages at Vietnamese firms had risen 35-50 percent, but "the minimum wage at foreign-invested firms has stayed the same". <|>

“In January, MOLISA clarified that the new minimum wage applied only to unskilled labor, and that the monthly salary for workers who have done vocational courses must begin at least 7 percent higher. In addition, to prevent companies from "bargaining" over conditions when delivering the rise, MOLISA stressed that "allowances, bonuses, travel expenses, meals, and housing fees paid to staff by FIEs would be maintained when the new minimum pay is applied". The VGCL also required enterprises to immediately announce Tet bonuses. <|>

The current rise in the FIE minimum rate is also good news for workers in local firms, because MOLISA announced in October that the department was planning to introduce a single minimum wage for all forms of business in 2008. To enforce the new law, deputy chairman of Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee Nguyen Thien Nhan asked trade unions to make up-to-date reports on wages being paid at FIEs. The VGCL has instructed grassroots trade unions to oversee the payment of wages and bonuses and visit FIEs to help workers understand the government’s decision. <|>

Garment and Shoe Factory Workers in Vietnam

Describing a worker at a garment factory near Ho Chi Minh City, Ellen Nakashima wrote in the Washington Post, “Le Thi Ha bent her head over the sewing machine, pressed a bare foot to the pedal and in six seconds turned out a neat armhole seam on a green nylon Pacific Trail jacket that will retail in the United States for $100, slightly more than her monthly wages. An expert seamstress on Production Line 2 of Factory Number 4 of the state-owned garment firm Vigatexco, she is part of an industry that employs 2 million people in Vietnam, more than any other industry in the country. Le, a single 35-year-old woman, churns out 250 items a day, which helped earn her the designation of Best Employee. "To me, it's easy," she said, pausing for a moment from her stitching and snipping. She sends one-third of her salary, which is more than what most factory workers earn, to her parents, she said. [Source: Ellen Nakashima, Washington Post, March 9, 2005]

More than 90 percent of the employees at Nike factories in Vietnam in the early 2000s were women between 15 and 28. They earned $1.60 a day (a meal of rice, and some vegetables and tofu cost are 70 cents). Workers often lost weight and complained of headaches and other health problems. In some cases the women were only allowed one bathroom break per eight-hour shift and two drinks of water.

Labor Shortages in Vietnam

Reporting from Vinh Cuu, David J. Lynch wrote in USA Today, “This South Korean-owned factory, which produces millions of Nike athletic shoes every year, employs ceiling fans and an open-air design to keep its assembly lines comfortable in the tropical heat. Workers strolling between buildings on the manicured industrial campus wear pastel-hued polo shirts. Nearby, cheerful managers lead upbeat training sessions in air-conditioned classrooms. Yet, one of the biggest problems for Nike and its Korean partner is hanging onto employees. Every year, more than one out of five workers leave for another job in Vietnam's rapidly developing economy, where wages for some skilled positions are rising by double-digit annual percentages. "Because people have so many more options, it's harder to retain people," says Shirley Justice, Nike's chief representative in Vietnam. [Source: David J. Lynch, USA Today, December 4, 2007 ////]

As Vietnam seeks to attract more U.S. investment, however, investors such as Nike are increasingly concerned about the country's ability to surmount looming bottlenecks. Chief among them: a shortage of skilled workers and woefully inadequate roads, ports and rail links. "Costs are going up significantly in this country. … In a couple years, if they don't come through on some of the things they say they'll do with ports, there's definitely going to be a bottleneck here," says Justice, whose background in logistics led Nike to assign her here. Vietnam is a key link in Nike's global supply chain: Last year, the Beaverton, Ore.-based company shipped 75 million pairs of shoes from its Vietnamese suppliers and expects to ship 81 million pairs in 2008. Nike says its footwear and clothing orders keep 200,000 Vietnamese workers employed, so its views carry weight here.

The labor shortage is particularly acute among high-grade managers and workers for industrial zones. In 2007, the Vietnam Economic Times reported: “It is estimated that from 2007 to 2010, industrial zones (IZ) and export processing zones (EPZ) alone will need some 500,000 laborers, while the existing training establishments can meet 15 percent of the demand only. The shortage of popular workers for industries has been seen for the last year. Tran Thien Tu, Deputy Chairman of the Ho Chi Minh City Association of the Enterprises in IZs, has made a comparison to describe the labor shortage. In the past, there were always 100 candidates for just one position, but the situation is quite different now: there is only one candidate while enterprises want 100. [Source: Vietnam Economic Times, January 19, 2007 *+*]

“The 15 operational IZs and EPZs in the city are planning to employ 51,750 laborers, including 38,295 popular workers. These laborers will work in the electric, electronics, textile and garment, footwear, mechanics, rubber and plastics and food processing industries. The IZs in Binh Duong province are expected to employ 20,000 laborers in 2007, 85 percent of which are popular workers, who will work in garment, wooden furniture processing, electrics and electronics fields. *+*

“Analysts have warned that the demand for high-ranking laborers will increase as Vietnam has joined the WTO. According to Nguyen Minh Hoa, Director of the Urban and Community Development Research Center, managers for banking and finance, telecommunications, transport, hotels and restaurant services will be in big demand. Meanwhile, according to Than Van Hung, Director of NIC, a human resources consultancy company, companies began rushing to find high-ranking laborers in 2006, and the high-ranking official shortage will occur again in 2007. *+*

“Tran Anh Tuan, Deputy Director of the Ho Chi Minh City Job Center, which conducted a survey on 2,300 enterprises in Ho Chi Minh City, said that the high-tech industries like electronics, telecommunications, precise mechanics, information technology will need 30 percent of total skilled workers in 2007. Meanwhile, the service sectors of business administration, marketing and advertisement, accounting, banking and tourism will need 30 percent of total laborers, and the remaining 40 percent of laborers will be used in garment, footwear and food processing. There will some changes in the labor market in 2007. As for the sectors that required skilled and qualified laborers, the demand from training and hotel services, finance and investment consultancy will increase. In addition, the demand for skilled workers in high-tech industries will also sharply increase. *+*

Firms Struggle to Hire Skilled Professionals in Vietnam

In 2009, John Ruwitch of Reuters wrote: “About a year ago, 2,000 of the best and brightest from five of Vietnam's top universities were invited to take a lengthy multiple-choice exam for a shot at a job at Intel Corp. The giant computer chip maker had broken ground on its biggest factory ever in Vietnam's commercial hub, Ho Chi Minh City, and the $1 billion assembly and test facility needed good engineers. It was more than just another big project. The Intel investment would put Vietnam on the global tech map and help a rising star in the manufacturing world move closer to its dream of advancing up the value chain. But the results from Intel's test cast a spotlight on one of Vietnam's biggest barriers to achieving that dream: its inadequate and inflexible higher education system. A fraction of the students passed the written exam, covering physics, electrical engineering, maths and other topics. They were given an English test and just 40 made the final cut. [Source: John Ruwitch, Reuters, May 13, 2009]

Than Trong Phuc, Intel's country manager for Vietnam, said he was not surprised by the results. "Is Vietnam a literate society with good people with fundamental skills? Yes," he said. "But do these people already have knowledge about chip-making in place? No. So we have to start from the ground." Company spokesman Nick Jacobs said the test was not designed for hiring but rather to "evaluate the competencies" of students and to be a starting point for dialogue with the authorities. Vietnamese newspapers and websites reported on the result, though, and word quickly spread. The Intel tale soon became a go-to anecdote in the foreign business community to highlight the education system's failings and one of the big problems when investing in the Southeast Asian country, a lack of skilled professionals. <~>

“The talent drought is not limited to the tech sector. "Whenever I talk to any company here, whether it's American or not, they say that finding good people is one of the major issues that they face," said U.S. Ambassador Michael Michalak, who has made education a top priority. The Vietnamese government recognises the need for change. The question is whether or not it will come fast enough. "The major challenge in this phase of development for Vietnam is really human resources," saidTon Nu Thi Ninh, a former Vietnamese ambassador to Brussels who is now working to set up a private university in the south, called Tri Viet University."You can have all the influx of investment and capital you want, but if you don't have the right human resources, in time you won't make it." <~>

“Companies, meanwhile, are forced to be creative in finding ways to fill their human resource pipelines. Some foreign firms have partnered with Vietnamese universities. Many have their own training programmes. FPT Corp, one of Vietnam's top technology companies, even set up its own university in 2006. Intel flew its 40 successful graduates to Malaysia for further training, and later this year will send 28 students to Portland State University in the United States on two-year, all-expenses-paid scholarships worth $2.24 million. "They come back and the condition is they work for Intel for three years, which is not a long time," Phuc said. The company has also donated PCs to Vietnam, trained teachers and offered $500 scholarships to 55 students domestically. <~>

University- Level Education Crisis in Vietnam

In 2009, John Ruwitch of Reuters wrote: “About a year ago, 2,000 of the best and brightest from five of Vietnam's top universities were invited to take a lengthy multiple-choice exam for a shot at a job at Intel Corp. The giant computer chip maker had broken ground on its biggest factory ever in Vietnam's commercial hub, Ho Chi Minh City, and the $1 billion assembly and test facility needed good engineers. It was more than just another big project. The Intel investment would put Vietnam on the global tech map and help a rising star in the manufacturing world move closer to its dream of advancing up the value chain. But the results from Intel's test cast a spotlight on one of Vietnam's biggest barriers to achieving that dream: its inadequate and inflexible higher education system. A fraction of the students passed the written exam, covering physics, electrical engineering, maths and other topics. They were given an English test and just 40 made the final cut. [Source: John Ruwitch, Reuters, May 13, 2009 <~>]

“Than Trong Phuc, Intel's country manager for Vietnam, said he was not surprised by the results. "Is Vietnam a literate society with good people with fundamental skills? Yes," he said. "But do these people already have knowledge about chip-making in place? No. So we have to start from the ground." Company spokesman Nick Jacobs said the test was not designed for hiring but rather to "evaluate the competencies" of students and to be a starting point for dialogue with the authorities. Vietnamese newspapers and websites reported on the result, though, and word quickly spread. The Intel tale soon became a go-to anecdote in the foreign business community to highlight the education system's failings and one of the big problems when investing in the Southeast Asian country, a lack of skilled professionals. <~>

“Among Vietnamese, public debate has blossomed about what many are calling an education crisis, especially at a time when some argue education reform should be a top priority as the government tries to right an economy buffeted by the global recession. The higher education system remains a throwback to Vietnam's pre-reform days when the economy was small and centralised, ill equipped for the country's new realities. "The demand for education at the post-secondary level is enormous. Demand way outstrips supply," said Jeffrey Waite, who follows education in Vietnam for the World Bank. "The system is under enormous pressure to respond by expanding access, and there's always the risk of expanding access at the cost of quality ... Quality is of real concern." <~>

“One huge problem is staff. Political credentials remain at least as important in the selection of professors as educational bona fides, despite a clear need for better qualified teachers. Less than 15 percent of teaching staff at higher education institutes have a doctorate, and that percentage has not changed in the past 10 years, Waite said. Schools have little autonomy to tailor curricula and students are rewarded for memorisation skills, not critical thinking. "I bet very few graduates could give a correct answer if they were asked 'what is a market economy?'," said one recent graduate who declined to be identified. "But you know what? They made us memorise the Investment Law which took effect in 1987." The school system, like other facets of life in Vietnam, is also plagued with corruption. Plagiarism is reportedly rife. <~>

“Not surprisingly, the products of such a system are weak. Only 30 percent of university and college graduates met requirements for their jobs, state-run VietnamNet quoted the Ministry of Education and Training as saying. Between 2009 and 2015, the two biggest cities, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, will need some 4 million "high-quality" workers in fields such as information technology, tourism, shipbuilding and finance. Based on the current level and quality of training, at best 40-60 percent of demand could be met, it said. In IT, Vietnam's universities and junior colleges mint 110,000 new engineers a year but only 10 percent become "effective employees", it reported. <~>

“The government has been drafting and re-drafting an education strategy to take it through to 2020, but it has faced criticism. One former senior education official was quoted as calling a late draft "unbelievably romantic". The start year keeps getting pushed back and it is unclear when the plan will be implemented. One critically needed change, some say, is the role of the central government, which must shift to one of broad oversight rather than micromanaging matters such as tenure appointments. "It's like they want to have their cake and eat it. They know what they want. They want to have one or two of their universities to be top ranked in the world. But they don't want to give away what they have," the World Bank's Waite said. <~>

Migrant Workers in Vietnam

Nguyen Van Ha's temporary lodgings are no bigger than a prison cell, his bed consists of wooden planks balanced on a few broken bricks and there is no electricity or running water. He is one of Vietnam’s migrant workers who come to the cities and industrial zones from the countryside to find work. Lam Van Tiep, deputy head of Ho Chi Minh City's export processing zone authority, told AFP that 240,000 workers were currently employed in the industrial zones dotted around the city, mainly at Japanese and South Korean firms, and many of these workers are migrants. [Source: Peter Stebbings, AFP, March 6, 2009 ^^^]

Ha works at a wood-processing factory where he ekes out a living for his young family. He told AFP he and his wife earn a total of three million dong (170 dollars) a month, just enough to live on and slightly more than the average monthly pay for workers at state-owned enterprises. He and a dozen others living in sparse rented shacks say that while the pay is more in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam's financial center 850 kilometers (500 miles) to the south, they have less disposable income there. ^^^

Vietnamese Migrant Workers Head During Hard Economic Times

At the end of the 2008-2009 global financial crisis hundreds of hundreds of workers returned to rural Vietnam rather than stay in urban centers Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi, because the cities are too expensive and jobs are disappearing. "The economic difficulties in the world have affected Vietnam," Ha, 28, told AFP. "Many of my friends lost jobs in Ho Chi Minh City. They came back home and are still looking for proper jobs here," the father of a five-month-old baby told AFP in central Quang Ngai province, one of the poorest regions in Vietnam. "I think life will become more difficult this year. The price of everything has gone up so high, while jobs are more difficult to find," he said, adding he left Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, because of the increased costs. [Source: Peter Stebbings, AFP, March 6, 2009 ^^^]

Peter Stebbings of AFP wrote: “Nguyen Van Minh, 47, who lets the shacks for 200,000 dong a month for two people, said there was an influx of workers coming back to the central province before Tet, or lunar new year, in late January. "Earning two million dong a month in Ho Chi Minh City is the same as earning a bit more than one million here because the living costs here are lower," he said, proudly surveying his moderate domain. "I have been in this business for about six or seven years but had never seen that many workers returning to Quang Ngai as before this Tet."They came back because they were sacked in Ho Chi Minh City as companies went bankrupt, or they could not stand the high living costs there." ^^^

“No official figures are available for how many workers have returned to their home provinces, but it is a trend which has been noted by the business community in Ho Chi Minh City and the capital Hanoi. It also echoes the situation, albeit on a smaller scale, in neighbouring China where migrant workers have been returning to the countryside in droves. ^^^

Jonathan Pincus, of the Fulbright Economics Teaching Programme in Vietnam, said it was impossible to pinpoint how many workers returned to the countryside because "the numbers range from a few thousand to millions depending on who you ask". "The loss of jobs in shoes and garments is certainly serious already," he added. "We have heard that some big shoe companies have cut employment in half. Whether these people have gone home or are searching for work in Ho Chi Minh City and its suburbs is not clear to us yet." The global economic crisis was to blame, Tiep added, with Vietnam's economy cooling to 6.2 percent in 2008 after almost a decade of blistering growth that saw the country rapidly develop, dragging millions out of poverty. ^^^

Vietnamese Labor Abroad

Often the best way to get ahead in Vietnam is to work abroad. In the 1980s and 90s even places like Romania and Siberia were considered the land of opportunity. Vietnamese men sent to Siberia wished they could stay longer so they could send more money back to their families. With the money sent home their families could buy luxury items like fans and replacement elements for their hot plates.

To pay off its war debts to East Europe, Vietnam sent off some of its most skilled professionals to countries like Czechoslovakia to serve as modern versions of indentured servants. Thinking they were going to get good salaries for performing skilled work North Vietnamese engineers and professionals signed five-year contracts only to find jobs as street sweepers and floor washers waiting for them when they arrived in Czechoslovakia. The Hanoi government used most of their salary to pay off its debts and many workers were left with only a US$100 a month to live off of. Many had no way out. They couldn't afford transportation back home and they couldn't get the Vietnamese or Czechoslovakian governments to step in and break the contracts. To add insult to injury many of the Vietnamese were chased by skinheads and even assaulted in their own homes.

These days tens of thousands of Vietnamese workers work abroad, mainly in nine places; countries: South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Macao, Malaysia, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Libya. The goal in 2011 was to send 87,000 workers abroad but Vietnam fell short of that in part because of workers forced to leave Libya because of turmoil there.

Overseas Work Scams in Vietnam

Huw Watkin wrote in the South Morning China Post, “Vietnamese authorities have sentenced a fraudulent employment agent to life in prison and are warning the country's increasing numbers of unemployed to be wary of lucrative offers to work overseas. In what is believed to be the harshest sentence handed down so far in a growing number of cases involving overseas employment scams, Hanoi's People's Court jailed Dao Van Son, 64, after convicting him of stealing nearly 850 million dong (HK$470,600). [Source: Huw Watkin, South Morning China Post, February 15, 2000 \^/]

“According to the People's Police newspaper, the court heard Son had deceived 100 people into paying for access to non-existent jobs in Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and Germany. The newspaper reported that Son had been convicted of forgery and fraud on three previous occasions. He used the name and official seals of a recently dissolved state enterprise which he once headed to legitimise the deception. Court and Ministry of Labor officials declined yesterday to comment on the case. But recent Vietnamese media reports have highlighted similar stings. \^/

“Vietnam's stagnating economy saw national unemployment jump to 7.4 percent last year, from 6.8 percent in 1998, and an additional one million job-seekers are forecast to enter the employment market this year. Government agencies have announced plans to create more than half a million jobs in a year and Hanoi is to lift the number of Vietnamese allowed to work overseas to 25,000, from 20,000 in 1999.” \^/

Vietnamese Workers in Japan

Vietnamese guestworkers trained in Japan are becoming key human resources for Japanese-invested companies in Vietnam. In August, 2012, the Voice of Vietnam reported: “Vietnam is running short of qualified human resources, and many Japanese-invested companies prefer to recruit those who have already worked in their country because of their command of Japanese and their professional skills. Currently, more than 18,000 Vietnamese trainees are working in Japan. In 2011 alone, nearly 7,000 technicians were sent to Japan for training, 1.5 times the 2010 figure. The number of contracts Japanese companies have signed with their Vietnamese counterparts to receive Vietnamese trainees is increasing, according to the Department of Overseas Labor (DOLAB) under the Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs (MOLISA). [Source: Voice of Vietnam, August 3, 2012 \>\]

“The Japan International Training Cooperation Organization (JITCO) proposed establishing an information channel to introduce trainees finishing their labor contracts and returning home to Japanese businesses that are developing investment projects in Vietnam. JITCO representatives asked Vietnam to improve the quality of its trainees, especially in using Japanese language, to increase the number that can be recruited for various industries in the near future, mainly manufacturing. They said Japanese businesses are now also in dire need of agricultural workers, which could offer many opportunities for Vietnamese trainees. \>\

Czech Labor Shortage Forces Skoda to Recruit Workers from Vietnam

Christine Buckley wrote in The Times, “Skoda has begun to recruit workers from Vietnam for its factories in the Czech Republic as it struggles with a labor shortage. The Czech carmaker is having to search further afield for employees amid increased migration of Eastern European workers and a booming domestic automotive industry. [Source: Christine Buckley, The Times, November 29, 2007 >=<]

“Skoda, which is owned by VW, has used an employment agency to recruit several hundred workers from Vietnam, whom it regards as disciplined and attentive to detail. A spokesman said: "We have a shortage of labor so we are using employment agencies to bring in staff. Vietnam is one of the areas we are bringing people from. We would rather find people close to home and it is a long way for them to come, but until we can find the right people nearer home this is what we will have to do." It is not the first time that workers from Vietnam have moved to the Czech Republic. When the country was under communist rule as Czechoslovakia, Vietnam, also under communist control, and Cuba sent workers in return for arms and heavy engineering goods. >=<

“Many stayed in Czechoslovakia after the overthrow of communism in 1989 and set up small businesses. Now the Vietnamese are the third-largest immigrant group in the Czech Republic, behind Ukrainians and Slovaks. Skoda, which has been steadily repositioning itself in the car market as more of a value brand, is one of the Czech Republic’s biggest employers. It has more than 27,000 workers in its three factories. The Czech Republic is trying to make it easier for more migrant workers to settle in the country so that it can maintain a decent labor pool. It intends to issue green cards for workers outside the European Union that will combine rights for residency and work permits. >=<

Working Women in Vietnam

Women serve in high level positions in business and women get same pay as men in government. But you can’t say women are equal to men in the Vietnamese work place. Many working women in Vietnam do low-paying factory work. Women account for 80 percent of the work force in the textile and garment industry, which has become one of Vietnam's primary export areas, said Penelope Faulkner, vice president of Action for Democracy in Vietnam, a human rights group based in Paris. However, the pressure to keep prices low and stay competitive in the global market has suppressed wages and created unsafe working conditions, according to Faulkner. [Source: Bojana Stoparic, Women's e-news, February 15, 2007]

In their paper, "Missing Girls in Vietnam: Is High Tech Sexism an Emerging Reality?, Gita Sabharwal and Than Thi Thien Huong wrote: "Women in Vietnam have historically been economically empowered. They have a long tradition of participating actively in the labor force. This is reflected in the high levels of women’s work participation rate, which are identical to men. Rates of underemployment also appear to be similar and declining for men and women. In fact, women in Vietnam are expected to be gainfully employed. According to the World Values Survey (2001) 97 percent believed that both husband and wife should contribute to household income and be productive members of society. [Source: "Missing Girls in Vietnam: Is High Tech Sexism an Emerging Reality?" by Gita Sabharwal and Than Thi Thien Huong ]

Discrimination Against Working Women in Vietnam

In their paper, "Missing Girls in Vietnam: Is High Tech Sexism an Emerging Reality?, Gita Sabharwal and Than Thi Thien Huong wrote: "Despite women’s economic empowerment they continue to be disadvantaged and discriminated against in the economic and social spheres of life. This reflects Amartya Sen’s analysis about gender inequality not being one homogeneous phenomenon. Vietnam has different faces of gender inequalities some of which are deeply entrenched and with evidence of new forms of gender inequality emerging. [Source: "Missing Girls in Vietnam: Is High Tech Sexism an Emerging Reality?" by Gita Sabharwal and Than Thi Thien Huong /:\]

“Though women have taken advantage of the new opportunities generated by the process of transition and broad based growth, they have done so on disadvantageous terms. There are persistent inequalities in returns to labor between men and women. According to 2002 Vietnam Household Living Standard Survey (VHLSS), women’s average monthly wage is 85 percent of men’s. In agriculture the corresponding figure is 66 percent and in industry 78 percent. While gender inequalities in returns to labor reflect a combination of factors including differences in educational attainment, skills and work experience there is the angle of discrimination which is deeply entrenched and calls for further examination. /:\

“Analysis suggests that women are also discriminated against specifically while seeking employment in sectors believed to be men’s forte like information technology, oil and gas, chemical, etc. Similarly, sex segregation in the labor market is to some extent due to job recruitment and promotion practices. Government and the private sector reinforce these gender stereotypes. For example, an analysis of Lao Dong (Labor) newspaper advertisements in the first quarter of 2000 indicated that a fourth of the jobs advertised specified only male candidates. Similarly, a Ministry of Health advertisement states bluntly that women and men can apply for pharmacist jobs but that women must have "excellent" university degree while men needed only "average" or "higher level". Such gender biased advertisements are a reflection of labor segregation and actively promote gender discrimination in the labor market. /:\

“Women also work longer hours. Women’s work load analysis suggests in rural Vietnam, women put in six to eight hours more which typically involves domestic work and contributions to the care economy. In urban Vietnam, women put in 2.5 hours more than men performing household work. Men regard household work including cooking, taking care of children and the elderly or sick as women’s responsibility with a very small proportions of men willing to share domestic work. Thus the burden of hardship falls disproportionately on women. This is the other face of inequality in gender relations within the family. /:\

“Gender relations have not changed much over the past years. Traditional Confucian norms and belief continue to form the overarching framework which defines gender relationship within the household and the society at large in Vietnam. Patriarchal value system tends to sit along side economic well being and high levels of women’s literacy. This combined with technological access is resulting in new forms of gender inequality as evidenced by declining sex ratio. /:\

Proper Work for Women

In their paper, "Missing Girls in Vietnam: “According to the Confucian cultural norms, women in pre-revolutionary Vietnam were supposed to have little or no authority in any sphere-political, economic, educational, or familial. There were no women in the "council of notables" that governed the village, nor were they part of the village political community that met in the communal hall. Because a woman was always incorporated within a family and subject to male authority within the family, a woman’s economic management and enterprise was always subject to male control and therefore not "real" authority. [Source: "Missing Girls in Vietnam: Is High Tech Sexism an Emerging Reality?" by Gita Sabharwal and Than Thi Thien Huong /:\]

“Under Communist rule a new social role for women in the countryside has opened up: co giao, "Miss Teacher," who teaches her pupils norms and behaviors, which may conflict with those of the parents. Vietnamese studies cite with approval cases where rural students admonish their parents on the grounds that "Miss Teacher would not like it," "it" being, for example, not boiling water before drinking, or quarreling. However, women’s present leading role in primary-level education, as well as in health, is conceptualized as an extension of women’s traditional role in the family: teaching children and caring for the sick. /:\

“As Pelzer White (1987) further points out, women are seen as making good cooperative accountants only as an extension of their traditional role as the keeper of the household budget. On the other hand, young men would never be allowed to train for careers as caretakers of very young children and infants. Only during the war was there a policy, expressed in a 1967 law, to promote women to leading positions in the countryside. The percentage of women acting as cooperative chairmen and other management posts shot up. After demobilization, however, the roles changed again. Even today, women face hostility from their husbands, and especially from their mother-in-laws, if they have higher status jobs. /:\

Tran Ngoc Suong: One of Asia's Most Successful Businesswoman

In 2002, Vietnam’s Tran Ngoc Suong, director of Song Hau Farm, won an award for the most prominent businesswoman in Asia. Saigon Times Weekly reported: “It was not her outward appearance that helped Tran Ngoc Suong win the 2002 Asia-Pacific Impressive Women Award for business category. However, what this 53-year-old businesswoman has done to her farm and the local farming community is really impressive. "I think my business activities are highly related to the local community," Suong explains about why she was given the title. "That means the results of my work are closely associated with the improvement of the livelihood of a community of 15,000 farmers." More importantly, she adds, the farmers have received and popularized the way of doing business she has instructed them. Suong outdid 15 finalists from 11 countries to claim the title of Asia's most successful businesswoman. "My colleagues [at the event] are all famous businesspeople," recalls Suong. [Source: Saigon Times Weekly, December 7, 2002]

More than two years ago, Suong succeeded her late father, Tran Ngoc Hoang, as the director of Song Hau Farm in Vietnam's Mekong Delta province of Can Tho. Hoang founded the 6,000-hectare Song Hau Farm in 1979. In a decade Suong's father and his team had turned the abandoned land into a regional rice basket. "Yet we realized that we could go to nowhere with only rice monoculture," says Suong. In the early 90s when rice paddy was still a strategic farm produce of the entire nation, Song Hau Farm's management, including Suong, probed an alternative. "Multiple-crop is a must," Suong says.

The strategic shift has translated Song Hau into the region's agricultural hub capable of exporting farm products under Sohafarm trademark to foreign markets. Song Hau Farm's annual revenue reaches some VND3 trillion (US$200 million) while its farming households each earn VND33 million (US$2,100) per year. The farm's food processing factory has won both HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point), the hygienic qualification for food exports, and ISO9002/2000, the quality management system. Song Hau Farm has its own power generator, a high school and a cultural club. Farmers and their family members are entitled to free medical treatment and social welfare. The children are given education from kindergarten to senior high school.

As Asia's most prominent businesswoman, Suong received a prize worth US$10,000. She later called home to say she would donate the entire prize to poor women and children in Can Tho. Joining Suong at the competition were three other Vietnamese candidates. They were Ha Thi Khiet, chairwoman of the Vietnam Women's Union; Nguyen Thi Thanh Huyen, Southeast Asian Games champion; and Tran Thu Ha, director of the Hanoi Conservatory. See Tran Thu Ha Under Music

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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