The Reality of Vietnamese Factory Workers

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SEATTLE, Washington — The Socialist Republic of Vietnam remains a communist nation, characterized by an oppressive government and minimal civil liberties. Many global companies, especially those found in capitalist, first world countries, outsource much of their labor to countries like Vietnam. Unfortunately, this practice used by many international corporations employs Vietnamese citizens in poor conditions. For example, many workers perform difficult tasks for as little as $40 per month. Below are some facts about the harsh reality of Vietnamese factory workers.

Nike Corporation

Nike employed nearly 10,000 workers at the Tae Kwang Vina factory back in 1995. Approximately 85 percent of these workers were women who came from northern and central Vietnam in search of a better life in the cities. However, for many migrant workers, the factory jobs were hardly any better than the rural lives they left behind.

Ernst & Young conducted an audit of Nike’s Tae Kwang Vina factory in 1997. This audit revealed that at least 104 of the workers employed in the factory were under the age of 18, effectively violating the national labor code. Additionally, Ernst & Young found that the factory was also not in compliance with environmental regulations. The factory was using adhesive and cleaning chemicals that were not only damaging to the atmosphere but to the Vietnamese factory workers as well.

The years following the audit in 1997, the number of sick workers declined from 86 percent to 18 percent. The factory began to comply with workplace safety laws by using water-based adhesive in the Nike shoemaking process instead of the toxic chemicals that had affected so many workers. Since 1997, Nike has made it its goal to become a “zero waste” company by this year, complying with the environmental regulations laws. In short, Nike’s efforts to change its poor practices in the past are benefiting its employees.

Minimum Wage Issues

Vietnam is one of the world’s biggest clothing manufacturers in the world. Vietnamese factory workers supply to numerous fashion companies like H&M. These large clothing chains have more than 6,000 factories across Vietnam. Sadly, workers are often forced to work 50 hours of overtime per month to make ends meet.

A U.S. based campaign group known as the Fair Labor Association surveyed 13,000 workers in Vietnam. Most of the workers earned more than double Vietnam’s minimum wage, yet they still needed to work absurd overtime hours to afford most needs. Many companies had pressured factory owners into not paying their workers a living wage. Essentially, this wicked practice perpetuates a kind of “modern slavery,” with little advancement for the workers.

Oxfam Organization

The worldwide development organization, Oxfam, operates in Vietnam to protect workers. It found that only 23 percent of informal Vietnamese factory workers have health insurance. In addition to this, they lack legal protection to demand better hours and higher pay. Many workers resort to working overtime to make ends meet. Despite the concerns, Oxfam is making a proactive effort to target this issue and help the Vietnamese factory workers.

Firstly, Oxfam is working to ensure that migrant workers in factories, many of whom are women, are able to find representation and protection in the workplace. Oxfam believes that health insurance and social security are two social services that need to be drastically improved for the Vietnamese factory workers.

Low wages have required many Vietnamese factory workers to work an absurd amount of hours. While there were issues with international corporations taking advantage of the workers, reform has taken place and continues to take place. Urban factory work has come a long way in terms of safety and hazardous working conditions. Currently, the issue that must be resolved is that the minimum wage in Vietnam is simply not enough. There are still many things that need to be done to lift these workers out of the harsh reality that they face daily.

William Mendez
Photo: Flickr

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