Nguyen Thi Thu Trang, head of the Legal Department at the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI), said Vietnam has engaged in more than 10 free trade agreements (FTAs), presenting opportunities for the expansion of export markets, particularly in fishery.
Trang noted most new-generation FTAs incorporate terms on labour and social welfare, including collective bargaining, eradication of forced labour and prohibition of child labour. The pacts also have principles on proper labour conditions regarding salary, working time and safety, while encouraging the development of labour-related corporate social responsibility.
She said that the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), to which Vietnam is a member, is considered as having the most demanding labour and social welfare conditions among these deals.
If a participating country fails to meet the requirements, it can be sued and lose tariff benefits offered by the FTA, she noted, noting that similar consequences are applied to fishery companies who break their labour commitments.
Trang concluded that complete fulfillment of labour criteria not only satisfies partners’ demand but also increases the prestige of Vietnamese firms, making it easier to access demanding markets.
Nguyen Hoai Nam, Vice General Secretary of the Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (VASEP), said Vietnam currently exports seafood products to more than 160 countries with high requirements of quality and social welfare matters.
Vietnamese fishery firms have responded well to the domestic law on labour and related criteria set by FTAs, he stated.
On the business side, Le Van Quang, Chairman of the executive board of Minh Phu seafood group, said international organisations stress social welfare and labour issues.
According to him, to ship its products overseas, the company has to go through social welfare assessments from about 10 different international organisations per year.
On child labour, Minoru Ogasawara, Chief Technical Advisor at the International Labour Organisation (ILO) office in Vietnam, said a 2012 survey showed that about 1.7 million Vietnamese children took part in the workforce, about 60 percent of whom were aged between 15 and 17. There were approximately 50,000 children, half of them were 15 and older, working in the fishery sector.
Participating experts suggested national-level policies to address the issue, including detailed social studies to assess the origin of child-labour-related products and their impact on society.
The seminar was organised by the VASEP and ILO office in Vietnam.