Imprisoned Vietnamese Labor Activist: No TPP Until Worker Rights in Vietnam

Apr 21, 2015
Press Release

WASHINGTON – Vietnamese labor activist Do Thi Minh Hanh, who recently spent four years in prison for distributing leaflets to factory workers, has urged that the Trans-Pacific Partnership not be concluded until Vietnam guarantees and promotes worker rights.

Writing on behalf of Viet Labor, a group advocating for workers to be able to join independent unions, Hanh laid out her case in a recent letter provided to a U.S. congressional delegation – including Ways and Means Committee Ranking Member Sander Levin (D-MI) – that visited Vietnam in March.

Release of the letter – in full below – comes as U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman is scheduled to travel to Vietnam today as part of ongoing TPP negotiations.

Hanh was arrested in 2010 with two other activists for distributing leaflets to workers at the My Phong footwear company in Vietnam in a quest for better pay and work conditions, according to Radio Free Asia and other reports.

Four months later she was sentenced to seven years in prison. She was released last June after spending four years in prison, while two of her co-workers, Mr. Doan Huy Chuong and Mr. Nguyen Hoang Quoc Hung, remain imprisoned.

Hanh’s mother, Tran Thi Ngoc Minh, testified before Congress last year about her daughter’s experience.

A copy of the letter she provided to the congressional delegation is below:

31st March 2015

Dear Sir / Madam

Thank you for meeting me while in Vietnam. I would like to present Viet Labor's views about labor rights and trade agreements, such as TPP.

VL is a federation of groups inside and outside Vietnam advocating for labor rights and aspiring to become unions when Vietnam's laws allow. My own Viet Labor Movement is an affiliate in Viet Labor.

Two of my co-workers, Hung and Chuong, are still in prison for helping workers to organise a strike and for advocating for union rights. I was released early.

Viet Labor wants trade agreements, such as TPP, to guarantee and promote workers' rights. In particular, we suggest that:

1.      Trade agreements not be signed until Vietnam has amended its laws to legalise unions independent from state control

2.      Trade agreements not to start until Vietnam has created an inspectorate and staffed it to receive complaints and punish those who stop workers exercising union rights

3.      Any union-rights violations by the Vietnamese authorities or by unions it controls should be subject to the trade agreement's dispute resolutions, and be subject to the withdrawal of trading benefits. In particular, we think that monetary fines are not enough to punish violations

4.      Labor rights groups be allowed to document violations of union and labor rights and submit evidence not just in Vietnam but to all trade agreement signatory nations

Even after independent unions are allowed to form, unless trade agreements forbid it, the Vietnamese authorities may still maintain a network of state-supported unions. Therefore:

5.      Labor rights groups be allowed to document violations of union and labor rights and submit evidence not just in Vietnam but to all trade agreement signatory nations

6.      We seek help from the world to prevent the independent union movement from being crushed by state-supported unions using their overwhelming resources and the state using its laws and other means

7.      Trade agreements should limit the ability of state-supported unions to crush the independent union movement

Furthermore, the world provides assistance to Vietnam in various ways. Viet Labor ask that these be reviewed with the view of protecting workers' rights. In particular,

8.      The Better Work Vietnam's aim should be amended to explicitly and strongly promote union rights, including for participating employers to allow, promote, and protect company-level independent union

9.      Projects resulting from aid should require contractors to allow, promote, and protect company-level independent unions

Đỗ Thị Minh Hạnh
For Viet Labor