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Call for an End to State-Sponsored Forced Labor in Vietnam

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In detention centers all over Vietnam, some 40,000 men, women, and children are being held against their will and forced to work in horrific conditions for little or no pay.

The victims are held without a hearing or a trial in a court of law in drug detention centers on suspicion of using illegal drugs. Most detainees are picked up in “street sweeps” or on the basis of a single positive urine test. Even those who enter the centers voluntarily in the hopes of getting help for addictions are not allowed to leave. Many are held for up to five years of forced labor, often to produce goods for private companies.

The International Labor Rights Forum is calling on the U.S. Trade Representative to denounce compulsory drug detention, and to demand that Vietnam permanently close the forced labor centers before rewarding Vietnam with the benefits of joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership [Free Trade] Agreement.

The detainees are forced to work under harsh conditions for little or no pay to produce goods such as t-shirts, trousers and nylon jackets; assembling shopping bags; making plastic drinking straws; and manufacturing products made from wood, bamboo, and rattan. The most common form of forced labor is processing cashews. Vietnam is the top supplier of cashew nuts to the United States, accounting for around two-fifths of total import volume.

As punishment for refusing to work, violating center rules, or simply not filling a daily quota, detainees are beaten with wooden truncheons, shocked with electrical batons, or placed in solitary confinement.

To ensure that the forced labor centers return a profit for the government, the Vietnamese government directly partners with private companies who contract with the forced labor centers for their production needs. The goods then enter the stream of commerce and may find their way on to store shelves in the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Europe.

While Vietnamese law supposedly prohibits all forms of forced labor, and Vietnam has ratified ILO Convention 29, which prohibits forced labor, the Vietnamese Government has refused to take any action to close the forced labor centers to come into compliance with its own laws and with international law. Rather, the government has been expanding the use of forced labor centers over the past decade, during which time the number of these centers increased from 56 in 2000 to 123 in 2011 (a 220% increase). Over that time, an estimated 309,000 people have been detained in the forced labor centers. There is no sign that the expansion of the forced labor centers will slow down.

The forced labor centers provide no evidence-based medical treatment for those seeking treatment for their addictions, which is why the World Medical Association, the International Federation of Health and Human Rights Organizations, the International Doctors for Healthy Drug Policies have called for the immediate closure of these labor centers, which are thinly being disguised as drug treatment centers. These leading medical organizations join a growing chorus of voices calling for the closure of the centers, including: the World Health Organization; Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria; UNAIDS; the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Health; the Independent Reference Group to the United Nations on HIV and Injecting Drug Use; AusAID; and Human Rights Watch.

For more information on these centers, read the report by Human Rights Watch.

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