Vietnam is one of the world’s leading wood processing hubs and the European Union (EU) is a high value, strategic market for its wood and wooden furniture. In August 2020 the opportunity to increase wood exports widened, when the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) came into force. The EVFTA relaxes import duties on goods originating from both the EU and Vietnam: a major trade boost for both parties.
Around 600,000 people are employed in wood processing and furniture manufacturing in Vietnam. Little has been said about labour rights in Vietnam’s wood sector.
This report aims to rectify this.
It is based on in-depth interviews with a sample of 40 workers from various sections of different wood processing and furniture manufacturing companies supplying to the EU.
In summary we found: Inadequate living wages, subcontracted workers living precariously, inadequate or no allowances to compensate for toxic working environments, no effective union representation, and gender discrimination. Some good practices also shined through.
The report concludes that the EU should require European companies to abide by their social responsibility commitments when buying furniture from Vietnam. This could be achieved through the effective implementation of mandatory due diligence laws such as the upcoming Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive. They must also pay fair prices for goods so that Vietnamese factories can pay fair wages and global brands should be held accountable for paying living wages - a basic requirement for human dignity.
The EVFTA commits the Parties to making continued and sustained efforts to ratify the core International Labour Organisation conventions that cover these fundamental rights at work, and to effectively implement them in domestic laws and regulations and practices. The case studies show there is little awareness among workers on one of the major reforms in the new Vietnamese Labour Code - the introduction of worker representative organisations.
The global wood supply chain is tainted by labour rights’ violations. The free trade agreement between the EU and Vietnam must be a vehicle for ending rather than deepening them.