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Vietnam Plans to Step Up Labor Inspections

Factories to be added to Better Work Vietnam program.

GENEVA — Vietnamese apparel factories, under pressure from international buyers keen to see goods manufactured in conditions that meet global labor standards, are projected to sharply increase their participation in the Better Work Vietnam program to 375 factories by the end of 2014, up from about 160 at present, officials overseeing the plan said.

More than 40 international buyers are participating in the program, including American Eagle Outfitters Inc., Columbia Sportswear Co., Gap Inc., H&M, Levi Strauss & Co., Marks and Spencer Group plc, PVH Corp., Ralph Lauren Corp. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

The revised numbers will cover “approximately 565,000 workers,” according to estimates by Tara Rangarajan, program manager of Better Work Vietnam. The program, launched in the Southeast Asian nation of 88.8 million people in June 2009, is part of the Better Work global program supported by the International Labor Organization and International Finance Corp., a member of the World Bank group focused on the private sector in developing countries.

Growing concerns by consumers, buyers and importers about poor working conditions prevailing in many apparel plants around the globe has increased calls that the products should be manufactured in nonabusive conditions that meet global labor norms.

“Buyers are either convincing or compelling factories to ensure they meet labor standards, so those factories with labor practices are in a better position to get new business,” Nguyen Hong Ha, deputy general director at the Ho Chi Minh City Chamber of Commerce and Industry, was quoted as saying in a new ILO/IFC study on the status of the program.

The program works with the Vietnamese government, employers, workers and international buyers to help ensure enterprises comply with core ILO standards on discrimination, forced labor, child labor and freedom of association and collective bargaining. A recent compliance report on working conditions in 120 Vietnamese factories conducted between January 2011 and 2012 found the most common areas of noncompliance were related to occupational health and safety, overtime hours, paid leave and failure to hire adequate numbers of people with disabilities.

The report, which focused on plants in Ho Chi Minh City and surrounding provinces, noted that, according to Vietnamese law, “there is only one legal trade union, the (Vietnam General Confederation of Labor),” and “as such, every factory will be out of compliance with related questions on freedom of association.”

The report stated that last year there were about 950 wildcat strikes in the country. The program manager also indicated that while the program only evaluates factories registered to participate in the program, “buyers are increasingly holding their subcontractors responsible for upholding the same levels of compliance.”

In 2011, Vietnam’s textiles and apparel exports reached $11.1 billion, and the sector provided jobs for more than two million people, the program said.