Vietnam garment sector takes stock of new generation trade standards

Since the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) came into force on 1 August 2020, Vietnam’s significant garment and footwear sector has been working to meet the deal’s innovative non-trade provisions, specifically the commitments on environmental and social standards in its Chapter 13.

To support the implementation of these commitments as well as the 2011 UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), FES Vietnam and the Centre for Development and Integration (CDI) have been implementing a project titled Business and Human Rights in Trade Relations and Global Supply Chains in Vietnam, funded by the European Union.

Part of that project included an online workshop on the UNGPs on 24-26 August 2021, held by the Vietnam Textile and Apparel Association (VITAS) and the CDI in cooperation with FES Vietnam. VITAS Acting General Secretary Hoang Ngoc Anh spoke with FES Vietnam after the event about the challenges and potential benefits of the standards set by the new generation of trade deals.

FES: With the new generation of free trade agreements, Vietnam's garment exports will have a lot of growth potential. Along with it there are requirements for business commitments to sustainable development and compliance with international regulations, especially with respect to human rights. How do you view the compliance status of Vietnamese garment enterprises in this respect?

Anh: The Vietnamese Government revised the Labour Code in 2019, which represents major progress towards alignment with the 1998 International Labour Organization (ILO) Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. The Government also has ratified Convention 98 on Collective Bargaining in 2019. This is a core requirement under the Trade and Sustainable Development Chapter of the EVFTA. Looking back to more than 10 years ago when the terms ‘freedom of association’ or ‘collective bargaining’ were still a political taboo, we are amazed how far the country has come, including with enterprises in Vietnam textile and garment industry. The new generation of free trade agreements (FTAs) has played as important a role as the domestic need for Vietnam to modernise its labour law and industrial relations. There is an unpredictable global environment, the temptation of simply sticking to the status quo, and concerns about an uncertain future due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That is why the new generation of FTAs is important to encourage policy makers and enterprises to stay on the course of reform within the parameters set by the ILO standards and the FTAs. We recognize that more and more factories have demonstrated a strong commitment to compliance, and non-compliance rates have reduced across almost all compliance points compared to previous years.

FES: The UNGP were adopted by the United Nations in 2011. What do you think about the approach and application of the UNGP to the practice of garment enterprises in Vietnam – opportunities, difficulties and challenges?

Anh: The Principles three main pillars are: the state's duty to protect human rights; the responsibility of business to respect human rights; and access to remedies. About four years ago, the UNGP was still not properly recognized and implemented, at either policy or practical levels in Vietnam. And thus the FES project has set out to raise awareness of the UNGP, thereby advancing the business and human rights agenda in the context of increasing trade and integration into the global market in Vietnam. The project has built intensive training programmes with the sharing of excellent lecturers. There is also the fact that COVID-19 has exacerbated problems in some areas, including occupational health and safety, shortage of qualified medical personnel in factories, non-compliance with collective bargaining procedures and excessive overtime. Addressing these challenges requires the commitment of the business leadership, and cooperation efficiency among supply-chain stakeholders. Any achievement will not be possible without close coordination with the government, social partners and industry stakeholders. In the future, partners can play a much larger role in disseminating the UNGP – such as expanding training in Industrial Parks and Export Processing Zones with high factory coverage to ensure that impacts of the project can spread across the industry and beyond.

Further information on the training please visit the Facebook page of our FES Vietnam Office.


Hoang Ngoc Anh is the acting general secretary of the Vietnam Textile and Apparel Association (VITAS) with currently more than 600 members. She previously served as vice general secretary cum director of trade policy and international affairs of the association. She participates in many regional trade advisory joint committees and especially the VITAS Sustainability Committee.

The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of FES.

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