Dutch Ambassador: Laws are just part of the story, compliance is key

Dutch Ambassador Nienke Trooster shares the Embassy’s priorities in labour areas and her views on workplace compliance and gender issues.

Article | 29 June 2015
What are the priorities of the Dutch Embassy in Viet Nam in the areas of labour and employment now and the next few years?

Labour issues are one of the areas that the Netherlands is actively working on throughout the world. In Viet Nam, many Dutch companies benefit from its promising market. Garments and footwear, sustainable agriculture, water sanitation and energy are just some sectors where you can find major Dutch investments in Viet Nam. Many of our companies have a strong Corporate Social Responsibility profile. This ranges from ensuring good labour conditions to minimizing environmental impact. Corporate Social Responsibility is a top priority for the Dutch Government and Foreign Trade Minister Lilianne Ploumen plays a special leading role in promoting better conditions in the textile industry. Dutch clothes stores are strongly encouraged to take responsibility for their footprint in the whole supply chain. This starts with knowing and checking how their products are made and which social and environmental impact their production creates in countries often far away. Besides encouraging companies to focus on social responsibility, the Netherlands also directly funds projects that improve labour conditions in Viet Nam. The Better Work programme executed by the ILO is probably the best example.

The Dutch Government is the donor of ILO’s on-going project to help improve the effectiveness of labour inspection to increase workplace compliance and one of the donors of the Better Work Viet Nam. What do you think about the importance of workplace compliance in the country?

Workplace compliance is indeed very important. Good laws do not automatically result in good working conditions. Laws are just a part of the story of better work. Implementation compliance is key. It helps to have people check on this on a regular basis. The labour inspectorate has a key role to play, to monitor and to advise. I’m sure Viet Nam realizes this but it’s also a matter of developing the capacity and skills to do this effectively. Therefore it is important to train the inspectors adequately so that they know exactly how to implement the law and stimulate companies to abide by it. This demands more than simply ambition, but also expertise and of course experience. Through the ILO-project that the Netherlands funds, we hope to contribute to more effective inspections, resulting in better work for employees, employers and for the Vietnamese economy at large.

The Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs, the Viet Nam General Confederation of Labour and the Viet Nam Chamber of Commerce have launched a Code on Conduct on Sexual Harassment in the Workplace with ILO support. Can you share your country’s experience in dealing with this issue?

Codes of Conduct are an important first step to combat sexual harassment in the workplace. However, the code itself is not the goal, it’s just a tool to help change behavior and a starting point for dialogue. When combatting sexual harassment, it might appear simple yet crucial to know what it entails, how to recognize it and in what ways to deal with it. An act of sexual harassment is not always perceived as such and can be dealt with in different ways in different circumstances. So I think it is of fundamental importance to talk with one another on the content of such a code and what it means in practice, to speak about the dilemma’s one can be confronted with. In the Netherlands, combatting sexual harassment is part of a broader approach in which integrity is the key concept. Integrity involves a set of rules and behavior which is encouraged from work floor level all the way up to the director. Good and responsible leadership on all levels is an essential condition to realize the desired behavior written down in any code of conduct.

We know that you are interested in gender issues. In your opinion, what else needs to be done to improve gender equality in the world of work?

Official statistics show that about 72 per cent of women are part of the labour force in Viet Nam, which means that a lot more Vietnamese women have jobs than in most developing countries. Viet Nam has a strong track record of promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment, which is reflected in several important Vietnamese laws. However, the implementation of legislations and policies remains a challenge. Vietnamese women continue to face serious obstacles in their daily lives, including at work. They continue to earn considerably less than men across economic sectors, are less likely to be promoted and to receive training than men and are overrepresented in the informal sector. I think we should devote more effort to showing that promoting gender equality in companies pays off. Employers who hire, retain and train female workers will benefit from a larger pool of talent which in turn results in increased productivity and better competitiveness. It is morally sound and economically sound to treat men and women equally.