WORK AND LABOR-RELATED PROBLEMS IN VIETNAM: DEATHS, DISEASES, ABUSE, CHILDREN AND FORCE LABOR

WORK-RELATED DEATHS AND DISEASES IN VIETNAM

Wasantha Rupasingha wrote in the World Socialist Web Site, “According to the labor ministry estimates, there were 120,000-130,000 workplace accidents from 2005 to 2010, killing around 12,000 people. In other words, some 2,500 people, including innocent pedestrians passing construction sites, are killed every year. A report by state-run Vietnam General Confederation of Labor (VGCL) recorded in December that 287 workers nationwide were killed in a total of 254 workplace accidents in the first 10 months of 2010. Compared to the 2009 figure of 550 deaths recorded from 6,250 accidents, last year’s toll seems to have dropped. [Source: Wasantha Rupasingha, World Socialist Web Site, January 21, 2011 >>>>]

According to "Labor and Social Trends in Vietnam 2009/10," a joint report of Vietnam’s labor ministry and the International Labor Organization (ILO) published in June, the numbers of injuries increased sharply from about 4,164 injured in 4,050 accidents during 2005 to 6,421 injured in 6,250 accidents during 2009. In July 2010, Pham Gia Luong, deputy head of the labor ministry’s workplace safety agency, admitted the "real number of work place accidents in Vietnam is assumed to be far higher than statistics show". Only 3 percent of Vietnam’s 400,000 enterprises, which employ 8.6 million workers, report accidents to his agency. The rest of the country’s 46-million workforce is employed in agricultural cooperatives or handicraft villages where accident statistics simply do not exist. Pham stated that the country "cannot control occupational safety, so the number of workplace accidents tends to increase and is becoming complicated". >>>>

“One reason behind the large number of deaths and injuries is a lack of oversight of industry in Vietnam . “The number of newly-registered enterprises in 2009 increased 29.4 percent from 2008. Almost all were private and foreign-owned. State-owned firms now account for just 2 percent of the total number of companies. Despite the proliferation of enterprises, Vietnam had only 496 labor inspectors in Vietnam in 2008. >>>>

“According to the VGCL’s understated figures, the industrial and mining sectors recorded the highest number of deaths, with 19 deaths in each sector during the first 10 months of 2010. The largest industrial center, Ho Chi Minh City, recorded the most deaths—with 56 deaths in 52 incidents. As to the specific causes of these deaths, the VGCL identified falls from heights, which accounted for 21 percent, followed by being hit with falling objects and equipment, slips and falls, burns and electric shocks. In the construction industry, private companies that have won bids for projects often transfer work to a number of contractors. Many use low-quality equipment and unskilled labor to reduce costs. The country’s penal code, however, only punishes individuals for accidents, not business organizations or companies. >>>>

“Dangerous working conditions are not limited to the industrial sector. Work accidents and work-related diseases are becoming more serious in the farming sector, which accounts for nearly 50 percent of the workforce (predominantly small farmers and a growing number of workers employed by agribusiness). In recent years, Vietnam has emerged as one of the world’s largest rice exporters, and the export value of agricultural products increased by nearly 400 percent, to $9 billion, from 2000 to 2009. >>>>

“In October 2010, the Viet News newspaper cited a survey about occupational accidents in rural areas by the National Institute of Labor Protection (NILP). According to the institute, "nearly 66 percent of laborers working in the agriculture sector and craft villages had frequent contact with dust. About 60 percent had regular contact with harmful chemicals". As a result, rural laborers are suffering from respiratory, skin and gynaecological diseases. Tran Thi Lai, head of the Hau Giang Province’s agency of population and family planning, told Viet News the most common causes of agriculture-related accidents were "use of dangerous agriculture machines and tools, lack of control over agricultural chemicals and difficult conditions for work-related health care services". >>>>

Work-Related Deaths in 2010

In August 2010, the Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs Ministry report shows that 266 workers were killed and 525 seriously injured in more than 2,610 occupational accidents to June 30. Total material losses were estimated at almost VND56.8 billion (US$2.8 million) with 64,225 work days lost. The number of occupational accidents was more than 33 percent higher than the first six months of last year with deaths 27 percent higher and serious injury 107 percent higher. Most of the deaths and injury were recorded in economic zones, on construction sites or in mines. [Source: Viet Nam News, August 25, 2010////]

Ho Chi Minh City, Quang Ninh, Dong Nai and Hanoi maintained the dubious record of the most work-related accidents. Typical of the accidents was an explosion at a mine in Hong Linh Commune, central Ha Tinh Province, on April 13 where two workers were killed and three injured. Three workers died and 15 others were seriously injured when a boiler exploded at the Vinh Kien Food Processing Joint Stock Company's factory, the Minh Hoa Commune, southern Kien Giang Province on May 9. One death and one injured after a manhole explosion in La Nga Commune in southern Dong Nai Province on Monday. ////

Ministry officials blamed both employers and employees for the growing toll. Employers ignored safety and hygiene regulations and the need to upgrade the working environment while a lack of expertise made risk assessment and measures to curb any danger exacerbated risk. Awareness of the need for work safety among employees was low. ////

Official reports also reveal that notification of work accidents is still tardy - just 61 of 425 were promptly reported to the ministry and only three enterprises were subjected to legal action. A shortage of inspectors is blamed for the poor reporting. Ministry figures show that Viet Nam has only 470 inspectors and they have responsibility for administration; work safety and hygiene, child labor and gender imbalance. The ministry estimates that at least 1,000 inspectors are required. Deputy Minister of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs Bui Hong Linh said the relevant local authorities must strengthen their examination of small-to-medium enterprises, especially in the construction, electricity and mining industries. ////

150 Vietnamese workers sickened by chemical in shoe factory

Associated Press reported: ‘More than 150 workers were hospitalized and one later died after a chemical preservative was sprayed in a shoe factory in southern Vietnam, a company official said Monday. Hundreds of workers at the Nam Kang Shoe Factory, which produces shoes for a Taiwanese company, were allowed to go home early Friday after complaining of a noxious smell, said the official, who identified himself only as Binh and would not disclose the company's name. [Source: Associated Press, October 28, 2002 :::]

The chemical formaldehyde— widely used as a preservative, sterilizer and embalming fluid— had been sprayed in a storage area earlier in the day to prevent leather from molding, he said. One female worker, who had recently suffered from severe hepatitis, was hospitalized Friday night for breathing problems and died the next day, he said. Workers returned Saturday to the factory, in Binh Duong province, but began experiencing headaches, eye irritation and vomiting, and about a dozen fainted, Binh said. Of the people hospitalized, all but five had been discharged as of Sunday, he said. The five remaining in hospital are in stable condition, he said. :::

The formaldehyde is believed to have made the workers sick, but authorities are investigating other possibilities since the 14 workers who sprayed the chemical were not affected, Binh said. He said the company has been using formaldehyde to prevent leather from molding since April, but it normally sprayed the chemical on Saturday afternoons because the factory is closed on Sundays. Nam Kang, which employs 3,100 workers, has produced shoes for the Taiwanese company since 1995, said Binh. :::

Pneumoconiosis Common among Occupational Diseases in Vietnam

In 2005, Xinhua reported: Vietnam now has some 9,000 cases of pneumoconiosis due to dust containing silica, accounting for 80 percent of all occupational diseases in the country, local media reported Wednesday. The northern provinces of Quang Ninh and Thai Nguyen, which house many coal mines and metallurgy plants, have nearly 1,445 and 579 pneumoconiosis patients, respectively, Vietnam Economic Times reported without quoting sources. [Source: Xinhua, November 23, 2005 /+/]

To reduce the infection rates, relevant state agencies and enterprises are enhancing public awareness about the disease, asking workers to use proper protective gears. They are also establishing more medical check facilities for early pneumoconiosis detection. Pneumoconiosis is a disease of the lungs caused by long-term inhalation of particulate matter, especially mineral or metallic dust. Many coal miners suffer from a specific form of pneumoconiosis, silicosis, a chronic occupational lung disease contracted by the prolonged breathing of coalmine dust which contains silica and carbon. /+/

Labor at Korean- and Taiwanese-Run Factories That Contract to American Companies

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.

Factories in Vietnam run by Taiwanese and Korean owners under contract for Nike have been accused of exploiting workers. Workers have: 1) been beaten with shoes for not working fast enough, 2) had their mouths taped for talking, 3) been forced to kneel with their hands in the air for 45 minutes and 4) been forced to stand in the sun while writing sentences over and over again that refer to the mistakes they made. One female Korean floor supervisor was given a three-month suspended prison sentence after beating an employee on the head with a rubber-sole shoe. Girls have also complained about being molested by their bosses.

One study found high levels of carcinogens at Korean-run factory in Vietnam. In January 2003, 11 people were killed and 35 were injured when a gas container and a drier exploded at a Taiwanese bamboo and rattan factory in southern Vietnam. Many Vietnamese have become fed up with the horrid working conditions and draconian supervisors and have walked off the job and staged strikes.

South Korean Charged with Beating a Vietnamese Worker

Korean managers have been accused of seriously beating their Vietnamese employees. In May 2001 Associated Press reported: “Vietnamese police have launched an investigation of a South Korean employer who allegedly beat his Vietnamese employee unconscious, a police officer said. Um Yoon-sang, deputy director of the South Korean-invested Ladies Born company, is accused of hitting a company guard in the face and stomach during a quarrel after Um returned late at night to his residence in the factory compound April 22. Um complained that the gate hadn't been properly locked, police said. [Source: The Associated Press, May 9, 2001 |=|]

“The guard, Nguyen Thanh Bien, was unconscious after the quarrel and was taken to a hospital by other employees, the police officer said. He said police in the Long Khanh district of Dong Nai province met on Monday with provincial prosecutors, trade union and labor department officials to discuss how to handle the case. They agreed that Um must sign a pledge not to leave his residence while the investigation is underway and pay $10,000 in bail, he said. These measures will be implemented later this week, he said. Police in Long Khanh took Um's passport. |=|

Ladies Born company, established in 1993, produces handbags, belts and wallets and employs 700 workers. It has violated several Vietnamese laws, said Le Luu Luyen of the provincial Trade Union. The company didn't sign labor contracts with many workers, didn't pay compulsory social insurance, and workers were forced to eat their meals in makeshift dining rooms, he said. Luyen said the company withheld 5 percent of workers' salaries for social insurance, but never paid the amount to the social insurance company or the 15 percent of salaries the company is supposed to contribute. The Thanh Nien (Young People) newspaper reported that Um visited Bien's house three times to ask that he drop the law suit with offers of 7 million dong ($1=VND14,568), VND10 million and VND12 million, but Bien refused. |=|

Forced Labor in Vietnam

According to the U.S. Department of State: Vietnamese law “prohibits forced and compulsory labor, except as defined by administrative or criminal penalties. Nonetheless, according to government and NGO reports, forced labor of adults and children occurred. There were reports from credible NGOs that the government, especially the Ministry of Public Security, increased efforts to prevent forced labor, and the government reported criminal prosecutions for forced labor during the reporting period. In response to reports of forced labor on domestic coffee plantations, Lam Dong Province authorities issued a directive in November calling for increased inspections and stricter punishments against illegal labor brokers who offered jobs on coffee plantations. [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 ***]

Prisoners convicted by courts routinely were required to work for little or no pay. Authorities routinely required individuals, detained under administrative decree in reeducation centers and detention centers for sex workers and drug users, to work for little or no pay under administrative and legislative regulations. They produced food and other goods used directly in prisons or sold on local markets, reportedly to purchase items for their personal use. There were credible reports that private companies hired individuals in drug detention centers. ***

There was also information that suggested workers in centers for social and educational rehabilitation were engaged in agriculture (growing rice and vegetables; raising poultry, fish, and other livestock; and shelling cashews or other nuts), manufacturing (producing bicycle tires, mosquito nets, false eye-lashes, pottery, bamboo or rattan products, and shoes and apparel), and construction work. ***

In September an international human rights organization reported that authorities forced individuals in the detention centers for drug users to engage in unpaid or underpaid work as part of their treatment. In response, MOLISA officials confirmed that “therapeutic labor” was one part of the treatment for individuals in these centers but asserted that it was not required of all individuals and was remunerated. The officials also reported providing orders to provincial officials to halt construction of any new drug detention centers and cease all actions that violated labor regulations. Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip. ***

Vietnamese Required to Join Forced Labor Gangs

In 1999, Reuters reported: Communist Vietnam has issued an ordinance that will obligate Vietnamese adults to work 10 days each year on important projects such as repairing river dykes or building schools and war cemeteries. But the ordinance, issued by the National Assembly and which takes effect on January 1, also has a dose of capitalist reality -- people loathe to get their hands dirty can pay a "substitution fee'' or find someone willing to take their place. [Source: Reuters, November 8, 1999 \||/]

An official at the National Assembly said the measure, which replaces a similar 1988 ruling, would also affect Vietnamese at foreign companies. Ordinance 15, which was obtained by Reuters, comes at a time when communist leaders are trying to install patriotic fervour in an attempt to tap Vietnam's internal economic resources amid a slump in foreign investment. Older leaders also fret that the country's millions of young people, who were born after decades of independence wars, do not have the same sense of sacrifice for the nation that their parents and grandparents had. The ordinance said people would be mobilised for various construction work to benefit the whole community. It affects men aged 18 to 45 and women 18 to 35, although exemptions apply to people such as pregnant women, students, soldiers and war invalids. \||/

"Employers will have to create conditions for their employees to carry out their duties and rights,'' the National Assembly official said. "Those 10 days will be considered as leave without pay,'' the official said, adding that the substitution fee would be worked out based on the minimum daily salary in each province. The National Assembly is Vietnam's legislative organ. \||/

Child Labor in Vietnam

Vietnam is one of 19 nation criticized in a 2002 State Department on slave trading. The report said the Vietnamese government had made no effort to stop the commerce of human being who are forced to work in brothels, sweatshops and other involuntary servitude. See Human Trafficking Under Human Rights

According to the U.S. Department of State: Vietnamese law “prohibits most child labor but allows exceptions for certain types of work. The law sets the minimum age for employment at 18 years, but enterprises may hire children between ages 15 and 18 if the firm obtains permission from parents and the Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs (MOLISA). Enterprises hiring young labor (ages 15-18) have to provide them with special considerations concerning working hours, annual leave, and working environment. Children ages 15-18 may work a maximum of seven hours per day and 42 hours per week and must receive special health care. [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 law permits children to register at trade training centers, a form of vocational training, from age 13. By law an employer must ensure that workers under age 18 do not undertake hazardous work or work that would harm their physical or mental development. Prohibited occupations are specified in law and include those requiring compressed working posture, direct contact with harmful chemicals, contact with radioactive substances, work with various types of furnaces or hot metal, driving motor vehicles, operating stone grinding machines, and operating machines for starching cloth and cotton yarns, among others. ***

MOLISA is responsible for enforcing child labor laws and policies. Government officials may fine and, in cases of criminal violations, prosecute employers who violate child labor laws. Generally the government committed insufficient resources to enforce effectively laws providing for children’s safety, especially for children working in mines and as domestic servants. However, there were several reports that the government detected some cases of child exploitation, removed children from exploitative situations, and prosecuted/fined employers during the year. In April Lam Dong Province authorities closed and burned illegal tin mining sites where children were employed. In September authorities rescued two dozen children from “slave labor” in a private garment factory; at year’s end the factory owners awaited trial. ***

A 2011 investigation by the Ho Chi Minh City Department of Labor, Invalids, and Social Affairs showed that child labor appeared in seven of 24 districts and approximately 90 percent of establishments using child labor did not have business licenses. MOLISA maintained that more than 25,000 children worked in hazardous conditions countrywide, a statistic that international observers continued to believe was actually higher. The government approved in February its first five-year National Program on Child Protection and committed approximately VND 1.75 trillion ($83.3 million) toward implementation from both central and local government budgets. The government also continued programs to eliminate persistent child labor, with a particular focus on needy families and orphans. A joint project with the ILO to eliminate the worst forms of child labor continued. ***

In practice child labor remained a problem, particularly in rural areas, where two-thirds of the population resided. In rural areas children worked primarily on family farms, in other agricultural activities and household responsibilities, or in mines. In some cases they began work as young as age six and were expected to do the work of adults by the time they reached age 15. Especially during harvest and planting seasons, some parents did not permit children to attend school. Migration from rural to urban settings exacerbated the child labor problem, because unauthorized migrants were unable to register their households in urban areas. Consequently, their children could not attend public schools, and families had less access to credit. Officials stated that juveniles in education and nourishment centers, which functioned similarly to reform schools or juvenile detention centers, were commonly assigned work for “educational purposes.” ***

In urban areas children worked in family-owned small businesses, including small, privately owned garment factories, or on the street shining shoes or selling articles such as lottery tickets and newspapers. For example, in September Ministry of Public Security officials initiated the rescue of 19 ethnic minority children from Dien Bien Province who had been trafficked for the purpose of forced labor to family-owned garment workshops near Ho Chi Minh City. One shelter reported that some children were drugged during the year to keep them awake and working longer hours. ***

Most Child Workers in Vietnam Work for Their Poor Parents

Virginia Postrel wrote in the New York Times, “When Americans think about child labor in poor countries, they rarely picture girls fetching water or boys tending livestock. Yet most of the 211 million children, ages 5 to 14, who work worldwide are not in factories. They are working in agriculture - from 92 percent in Vietnam to 63 percent in Guatemala - and most are not paid directly. Some of the best data, and the most noteworthy results, come from Vietnam, which tracked about 3,000 households from 1993 to 1998. This was a period of rapid economic growth, in which gross domestic product rose about 9 percent a year. [Source: Virginia Postrel, New York Times, July 14, 2005 <<<]

In a paper published in the Winter 2005 Journal of Human Resources, "Does Child Labor Decline With Improving Economic Status?," Dartmouth economists, Eric V. Edmonds and Nina Pavcnik, found that child labor dropped by nearly 30 percent over this five-year period. Rising incomes explain about 60 percent of that shift. The effects were greatest for families escaping poverty. For those who crossed the official poverty line, earning enough to pay for adequate food and basic necessities, higher incomes accounted for 80 percent of the drop in child labor. In 1993, 58 percent of the population fell below the poverty line, compared with 33 percent five years later. <<<

"Child labor does not appear to vary with per capita expenditure until households can meet their food needs, and it then declines dramatically," Professor Edmonds wrote. During this same period, Vietnam repealed its policy against exporting rice. That opened a big new market for Vietnamese farmers - the country went from almost no exports to being one of the world's top rice exporters - and significantly raised the price of rice. This change, along with the family survey data, allowed Professors Edmonds and Pavcnik to examine what happens when household incomes rise but children's labor also becomes more valuable. Their paper, "The Effect of Trade Liberalization on Child Labor," was published in the March 2005 Journal of International Economics. <<<

“In the interview, Professor Edmonds said he expected that the booming market for rice would lead more children to work in agriculture, if only on their own families' farms, because the value of their labor had risen substantially. But that was not what happened. "Instead, it looks like what households did was, with rising income, they purchased substitutes for child labor. They used more fertilizers. There was more mechanization, more purchasing of tools," he said, adding, "It was the opposite of what I expected to find coming in." <<<

“For the minority of Vietnamese families who buy more rice than they produce, rising prices mean effectively lower incomes. That might lead to children's working to compensate. The economists did not find a statistically significant change for these families, however. The results from Vietnam suggest that families do not want their children to work. Parents pull their children out of work when they can afford to, even when the wages children could earn are rising. Poverty, not culture, appears to be the fundamental problem. <<<

Vietnamese Children Sold into Begging, Pimping and Drug Dealing

In 2000, Huw Watkin wrote in the South China Morning Post, “It could have been a scene from a movie depicting the dark and decadent streets of Saigon during the Vietnam War, but instead was a real-life Saturday night incident in what was once the socially disciplined northern capital. A taxi carrying two foreigners pulled up outside a popular Hanoi bar and was immediately surrounded by a swarm of child beggars. But one young boy, barely waist-high and probably no more than eight years old, was offering something in return. "Hey mister, you want ganga, opium, heroin. You want a girl," he said, persisting despite the firm refusals of the hapless and increasingly flustered foreign visitors. The incident lends credence to recent media reports that children are being increasingly used by organized begging gangs, pimps and drug dealers. [Source: Huw Watkin, South China Morning Post, April 18, 2000 ~~]

“The authorities and international child welfare organizations have expressed concern at the relatively new but increasing phenomenon, which has added another dimension to the trade in children - who are most often sold or "rented" by poor farmers seeking work in the cities. A consultant's report prepared late last year for several child welfare agencies found that trafficking in children for begging and soliciting represented a new and worrying form of bonded labor. "It is . . . becoming more and more pervasive in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, but has also increased in the larger provincial cities . . . the consultants conclude that the selling of children [for these purposes] is a reality and is an under-reported aspect of trafficking," the report said. "Some parents . . . leave their children in 'care' while they go to work. The children can be rented to beggars [and] there is the suggestion that they are drugged," the report concluded. ~~

State-controlled media have published accounts of mothers in Ho Chi Minh City who rent out their children for 20,000 dong (HK$11) a day . The full extent of the problem remains unclear, but figures from Vietnam's so-called "anti-social evils" authority found the number of beggars in the southern city had increased from 1,500 in 1997 to 7,000 last year. A similar trend is evident in Hanoi, where nearly one in five street children now reportedly beg for a living. City authorities have confirmed that children are also intentionally injured in order to induce the pity of passers-by. ~~

In 2007, Associated Press reported: “Police arrested a couple believed to have forced 21 children and old people to beg on the streets of southern Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City, local media reported. Do Van Xuyen and his wife, Nguyen Thi Ngoc, were detained after police found evidence they had forced 21 children and old people to walk the streets of the city to beg, the Lao Dong (Labor) newspaper said, citing police. Each person allegedly had to give the couple 200,000 Vietnamese dong (US$12) a day, and would be beaten if they handed in less than that amount, the paper said. The victims were being sent back to their home villages in the central province of Thanh Hoa, said the paper. Police in Ho Chi Minh were not available for comment Saturday. Forced labor is rampant in Vietnam, where many of the victims are children. They are often forced to work as beggars and sometimes prostitutes. [Source: Associated Press, September 22, 2007]

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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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