GENEVA — Determined not to miss out on the preferential market access gains to the U.S. and other advanced markets of countries that signed off last year on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, Vietnam’s Deputy Minister of Labor Pham Minh Huan unveiled an ambitious reform agenda at a global forum here Wednesday to ratify and implement core international and labor standards at all levels by 2020.
“This is becoming increasingly important when Vietnam integrates intensively into the regional and global economy with the signing of the TPP,” Pham told delegates to the annual International Labor Organization conference.
He said the government has also set requirements for supervision of labor law enforcement and development of the labor market in line with the market economy.
The labor chapter of the TPP accord requires all parties to adopt and maintain in their laws and practices the core ILO rights, including collective bargaining and freedom of association, and to have laws governing minimum wages, hours of work, and occupational safety and health, all of which are enforceable and backed by punitive trade sanctions.
However, Vietnam has yet to ratify a number of key ILO core norms such as Convention 87 on freedom of association and Convention 98 on collective bargaining.
Preferential access to the U.S. market linked to adherence to core labor standards in the last two decades helped boost apparel exports from Cambodia and Jordan, and Vietnam appears eager to follow in their footsteps.
However, top African trade experts said Vietnam’s preferential TPP access could erode benefits provided for African apparel exporters under the renewed African Growth and Opportunity Act, with the more cost-efficient and more advanced Southeast Asian nations gaining market share at the expense of African exporters such as Lesotho, Kenya and Ethiopia.
Mukhisa Kituyi, secretary-general of the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development and formerly Kenya’s minister of trade, said TPP will give Vietnam duty-free and quota-free access to the American market, and as Vietnam is 40 percent more efficient in the apparel sector, with TPP “it will eat the lunch for Africa” as the AGOA gains will be eroded.
In other business, ILO chief Guy Ryder, joined by executives from the apparel retail sector, labor unions and labor ministers, said more concerted efforts are required by governments, enterprises, labor unions and consumers to help eliminate all forms of child labor from global supply chains by 2025, including in apparel.
Canada’s minister of employment and labor, MaryAnn Mihychuk, said naming and shaming violators had proven effective, and UNI Global Union chief Philip Jennings said “due diligence” does not mean companies subcontracting responsibility.
Katharine Stewart, director of ethical trade and sustainability with the retail group Primark, said the company has a code of conduct throughout its supply chain, but noted,”that is not enough in its own right,” and stressed the need for collaboration with trade unions, civil society groups and communities.
“Top-down does not work if you don’t know what goes on in the communities,” she said.