Forced Labor in Vietnam

Across Vietnam, some 30,000 men, women, and children are being held against their will in state-run detention centers, forced to work, and beaten all in the name of “drug treatment.” 

The victims are alleged drug addicts who are held for periods of two to four years without ever receiving a hearing or a trial in a court of law.  

Drug center detainees are forced to work under harsh conditions for little or no pay doing a range of repetitive tasks, like sewing t-shirts or mosquito bed nets, painting stone trinkets, and processing cashews, often for private companies.  As punishment for refusing to work, violating center rules, or simply not filling a daily quota, detainees report being beaten with wooden truncheons, shocked with electrical batons, or placed in solitary confinement. 

Vietnam’s use of forced labor as drug treatment clearly violates international law, including ILO Convention 29, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  The detention centers are also an ineffective form of drug treatment: it is estimated that over 90 percent of former detainees return to using drugs shortly after release.  In 2012, twelve UN agencies, including the ILO, World Health Organization (WHO), and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), issued a joint public statement calling for the closure of compulsory drug detention centers, citing the use of forced labor and the lack of evidence-based drug treatment.

Goods made by detainees’ forced labor have made their way into global supply chains: in 2011, Columbia Sportswear acknowledged that one of its Vietnamese contractors had subcontracted the production of jacket liners to a detention center near Ho Chi Minh City.  Vietnam is the top supplier of cashew nuts to the United States and there is little doubt that some portion of the cashews sold to U.S. consumers are processed by forced labor in the detention centers.

For more information on the drug centers, see ILRF's report “Vietnam’s Forced Labor Centers,” which contains interviews with 15 former detainees and makes the case for why the detention centers should be closed as soon as possible.  

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