Working Conditions in Vietnam

Factory workers in Vietnam endure harsh conditions from overcrowded factories and exploited poverty.

While conditions have slowly improved from international efforts and Vietnamese policies, workers still suffer harsh conditions and low pay.

Learn how factory conditions in Vietnam exploit workers in the manufacturing industries.

Vietnamese Industries

Industrial production is one of the leading forces of Vietnam’s growing economy, and accounts for approximately 72% of the foreign investments in Vietnam. Increasingly high rates of foreign capital are brought into the country for manufacturing and production purposes, with a growth of over 6% from 2020 to 2021. The primary manufacturing industries of Vietnam include:

  • Garments
  • Shoes
  • Electronics and mobile phones
  • Chemicals and fertilizers

Vietnam’s primary industry is the garment industry, with $31.16 billion worth of textiles and garments exported in 2017. Due to inexpensive labor and manufacturing costs, major brands use Vietnamese factories as a primary source of production, including:

  • Gap
  • H&M
  • Levi
  • Nike

While industry in Vietnam is essential for bringing in capital and growing the nation’s economy, factory workers suffer from harsh conditions that exploit their poverty. Approximately 79% of Vietnamese workers are employed by an informal economy, in that they are self-employed, migrants, short-term factory workers, or unpaid domestic workers. These types of workers are offered very limited legal protection and often face unfair working conditions as a result. These poor conditions are especially prominent in factories, where workers face:

  • Low wages
  • Long hours
  • Hazardous conditions

Among other factors that contribute to harsh factory working conditions, these three variables are primarily used to assess working conditions in developing countries, and are often the leading cause of worker exploitation.

Low Wages

Low wages are a common problem in Vietnamese factories. As of 2020, the legal minimum wage in Vietnam is approximately $68 per month. This is far from what is considered a living wage, which is upwards of $250 per month in rural areas and $320 in cities, where the majority of factory workers live.

Many factories across Vietnam, particularly those in the garment industry, are in partnership with the Fair Labor Association (FLA), which works to provide workers with fair compensation for their labor. However, while Vietnamese companies affiliated with FLA typically offer their employees double the minimum wage, employees still earn wages well below the living wage.

Because of these low wages, many factory workers across the country have to work excessive hours to keep up with the cost of living.

Long Hours

Due to the low wages, factory workers are commonly forced to work excessive hours to make ends meet. In factories that pay minimum wage, employees typically work 30 hours of overtime per month. Vietnamese regulation requires factories to allow rest days for their workers, including a 30-minute break for every 6-hour shift and a full day of rest for every six days worked. However, these regulations can be difficult to enforce, and many factories across the country violate the rules. In factories that offer minimum wage salaries and violate rest laws, employees may work up to 50-hours of overtime per month.

In addition to mandated rest days and breaks, companies are also required to provide consensual overtime, rather than forcing or coercing workers into excessive shifts. However, these laws commonly go unenforced, with managers and supervisors threatening to withhold pay or job security to employees who do not comply with requested hours. Reports suggest that 57% of Vietnamese factories violate standard rest day requirements, forcing employees to work excessive hours with little pay.

Hazardous Conditions

Factory conditions are considerably dangerous in some regions in Vietnam. While safety regulations exist as a form of health and safety precaution, they frequently go unenforced, allowing for hazardous conditions to put workers at risk. Many factory workers are required to stand for the entirety of their shifts, and with the majority of employees working 12-16 hours at a time, this can lead to:

  • Fainting
  • Dizziness
  • Bone and joint aches

In addition, workers that faint on the job or experience long-term exhaustion are at risk of injury from heavy machinery accidents. Vietnam sees an average of over 2,000 deaths in workplace accidents per year.

Electronics production is the second highest grossing industry in Vietnam behind garments. Electronics industries, including Samsung, frequently experience diseases amongst workers due to exposure to chemicals in the production processes. Many of these diseases are terminal to workers due to their long-term exposure and handling, and include:

  • Leukemia
  • Lymphoma
  • Typhus
  • Multiple sclerosis

Along with these terminal diseases, the majority of electronics factory workers are women, many of whom experience disproportionately frequent miscarriages.

Many Vietnamese employees are informal workers and receive few health and social benefits, if any, from their employers. As a result, many lack the income and insurance to pay for treatments of diseases and injuries.

Other Factors

Along with low wages, long hours, and hazardous conditions, Vietnamese factories also expose workers to frequent child labor and harsh discipline. Many factories across Vietnam hold a strict culture of secrecy, where employees are banned from speaking about their working conditions under threat of unemployment. As a result, many of the poor working conditions in Vietnam may be going unreported.

  1. Child Labor 

While child labor laws exist in Vietnam and prevent the employment of children below the age of 15, the system contains many loopholes and a lack of enforcement that allows factories to employ children and expose them to the same harsh conditions as adults. Despite the labor laws, 9.6% of people under 18 in Vietnam are laborers. By employing children as informal workers (short-term factory workers, migrants, etc.), work is unsupervised and unregulated, putting children at risk of labor and sexual exploitation.

Garment industries also frequently rely on child labor, as it is a significantly cheaper source of labor due to the lack of regulations. Companies like H&M, Nike, and Gap use high amounts of child labor in their Vietnamese production.

  1. Punishment and Discipline

In addition to child labor, many factories use punishment and discipline as a form of labor exploitation. Many of the women in the garment and electronics industries are exposed to sexual exploitation and harassment, and are forced to tolerate such discrimination under threat of pay deductions or unemployment.

Other forms of punishment and discipline include arbitrary pay deductions, where employers and supervisors will reduce pay due to alleged mistakes or sick days. In an interview with 21 garment industry employees, 9 claimed to have faced arbitrary pay deductions during some point of their employment. These types of punishments put workers at risk of job insecurity, as well as force them to work longer hours to make up for lost payments.

Vietnamese factory workers endure low salaries a fraction of the living wage, long working hours, and hazardous conditions from chemical exposures, as well as child labor and discipline that frequently goes unreported. Organizations around the world are working to improve Vietnamese conditions and worker transparency, including:

  • Oxfam Organization
  • International Labour Organization
  • Better Work

Individuals can also contribute to better practices by supporting industries and companies that promote ethical and fair trade production.

Read more: How Does Consumerism Drive Demand and pollution?

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