Forced labour is bad for development and business alike

Opening remarks by Dr Chang-Hee Lee, Director of the ILO Country Office for Viet Nam, at the launch of guides preventing forced labour in the garment supply chains in Viet Nam.

Statement | 31 March 2016
Good morning ladies and gentlemen,

I am honored to be here today at the launch of the ILO-VCCI Guide for employers and Guide for trainers on “Preventing forced labour in the textile and garment supply chains in Viet Nam”.

These guides are an outcome of a long partnership between the VCCI and the ILO’s Forced Labour Action in the Asian Region (FLARE project). Ground work for their development was laid already in 2013, but never before have the topics discussed in these two guides been more relevant for Vietnamese businesses as they are today, on their launch day.

Forced labour refers to criminal labour exploitation that deprives workers of their freedom and dignity. It emerges when women, men and children are tricked and trapped in jobs which they cannot leave. According to ILO estimates, 21 million people are victims of forced labour worldwide. More than half of these victims, or 12 million, are in the Asia-Pacific region. That means in any given moment, at least three in every 1,000 people in the Asia-Pacific region are in forced labour.
Forced labour is bad for development, but it is also bad for business. Finding of forced labour in any industry can put the whole sector at risk, particularly due to potential trade barriers directly affecting exports. Forced labour also distorts the market as law-abiding enterprises face unfair competition from those operating outside the law. The ILO’s estimates put illegal profits obtained through the use of forced labour in the private economy worldwide at US$150 billion annually. One third of these profits were generated in the Asia Pacific region.

So, why are issues related to forced labour so topical and relevant for Vietnamese business today? I would like to highlight a few reasons.

First reason is the buzzword of today, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement. Eradication of forced labour is one of the four fundamental labour rights that TPP signatories agreed to adopt and maintain in their laws and practices. Viet Nam, as a party of this agreement, recognises the goal of eliminating all forms of forced or compulsory labour . This places increased scrutiny and new expectations on Vietnamese businesses to ensure risks of forced labour have no place in their operations or supply chains. The TPP Agreement also puts new pressure on the Vietnamese Government to ratify and implement the second ILO forced labour convention, Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1957 (No. 105).

Second reason relates to recent developments in the Vietnamese legal framework. The Penal Code adopted in November 2015 includes a new offence Article 297 establishing criminal sanctions for forced labour. Together with the prohibition of forced labour in the Labour Code and the Anti-Trafficking Law this new offence establishes a clear legal framework outlawing forced labour practices in Viet Nam. These legal developments were also an important step towards greater conformity with the ILO Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29), which Viet Nam ratified in 2007.

With this increased scrutiny on Vietnamese businesses, what are then those practices that they need to avoid to ensure that their operations and supply chains are free from forced labour? This is exactly the question that the Guide for employers and Guide for trainers jointly developed by the ILO and the VCCI seek to answer. They are designed to provide practical guidance to members of the VCCI and other businesses in Viet Nam on how to assess, identify and mitigate risks of forced labour in the companies’ operations and supply chains.

As Mr. Phong mentioned, Garment sector is one of the key drivers of Viet Nam’s economy. To ensure the sector’s development amid ever increasing challenges, its 6,000 enterprises and 2.5 million workers need more sustainable support.

The ILO has great expectations that the Guide for employers and the Guide for trainers will inspire Vietnamese textile and garment companies to step up their efforts to ensure social compliance, and help the industry as a whole to succeed in the global and ASEAN marketplaces.

On behalf of the ILO, I would like to thank the VCCI for their commitment and open-mindedness in working on forced labour issues with the ILO. On this launch day I also wish to thank all those business representatives and business trainers who greatly contributed to development, testing and validation of these guides. We would also like to thank the colleagues from MOLISA, Better Work Viet Nam and the ILO Offices in Geneva, Bangkok and Ha Noi for their support throughout the process to develop these guides.

I wish these guides and this launch event great success!

Thank you!