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Vietnam: UN experts concerned by threats against factory workers and labour activists

GENEVA (20 March 2018) – UN human rights experts* express their concern about reports that women workers at two Samsung Electronics factories in Viet Nam, as well as labour activists, have been subjected to intimidation and harassment after they raised concerns about working conditions at the plants.    

Among their concerns was the possible exposure of workers to toxic chemicals at the factories in Yen Phong Industrial Zone, Bac Ninh province, and Pho Yen Industrial Zone in Thai Nguyen province.

A report published by the Centre for Research on Gender, Family, and Environment in Development (CGFED) and the International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN) indicated that Samsung factory workers were not adequately informed or trained to protect themselves from toxic chemicals used in the manufacturing of electronic equipment.

Some of the surveyed women reported adverse health consequences associated with unhealthy working conditions including miscarriages, extreme fatigue and fainting. Reportedly, Vietnamese labour authorities are currently investigating the findings of the report.

“We are very disturbed to learn that researchers who authored the report have received demands to present themselves for interviews with Government authorities,” said the experts.

They had been informed that the lead author of the report, Pham Thi Minh Hang, had been asked to present herself to officials on 19 March after returning from a meeting on protection measures for toxic chemicals in Stockholm, Sweden.

“We have also asked Samsung for clarification on the allegations received that workers in the factories were also threatened with lawsuits if they talked to people outside the company about working conditions following the report’s publication last December,” the experts said.

“While an assessment of the findings of the report requires a response by the competent authorities, it is unacceptable that researchers or workers reporting on what they consider to be unhealthy and inadequate working conditions are intimidated by private or public officials.

“Both Government authorities and companies concerned must ensure the space for civil society to verify the adequacy of conditions of the many Vietnamese women working in manufacturing facilities. Intimidating labour advocates and workers not only is a violation of their right to freedom of opinion and expression, but can contribute to impunity of those who abuse and violate the rights of workers. Such actions also undermine the respective obligations and responsibilities of the Government and companies to respect human rights in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. 

“Vietnam’s rapid economic development over recent years is a notable achievement. Yet, such reports indicating the lack of space for civil society to monitor and challenge abuses committed by companies or authorities are of serious concern. Without transparency and a safe space for public debate, abuses can proliferate and perpetrators will likely remain unaccountable,” said the experts, offering to visit Vietnam to provide assistance and to meet with authorities to discuss the matter.  

ENDS

(*) Mr. Baskut Tuncak, Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes,  Ms. Anita Ramasastry (Chairperson)The UN Working Group on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises; and Mr. David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council

Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity. 

For further information and media requests, please write to srtoxicwaste@ohchr.org or contact Marcelo Daher (+41 22 917 94 31, mdaher@ohchr.org) or Alvin Gachie (+41 22 917 99 71 agachie@ohchr.org).

UN Human Rights, country page: Vietnam

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact
Jeremy Laurence, UN Human Rights Media Unit (+41 22 917 9383 / jlaurence@ohchr.org)

This year, 2018, is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN on 10 December 1948. The Universal Declaration – translated into a world record 500 languages – is rooted in the principle that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It remains relevant to everyone, every day. In honour of the 70th anniversary of this extraordinarily influential document, and to prevent its vital principles from being eroded, we are urging people everywhere to Stand Up for Human Rights: www.standup4humanrights.org