Promoting change: Better Work Viet Nam takes on sexual harassment and gender-based violence through targeted initiatives

29 Jan 2024

HO CHI MINH CITY, Viet Nam, 29 January 2024 – Sexual harassment and gender-based violence (GBV) are pressing issues in the worldwide garment industry, which were likely further exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic as individuals grappled with heightened economic and social difficulties.

In Viet Nam, efforts to tackle and eradicate sexual harassment and GBV across the garment industry have gained momentum. Better Work Viet Nam has launched a series of programmes and initiatives over the years, collaborating with local and international partners to address these issues across the sector’s factory floor.

Between August-September 2023, the programme conducted an internal survey on sexual harassment prevention to gain insights into the issue. The survey, which was shared with its partners during the Better Work Viet Nam Business Forum last year, collected responses from over 500 respondents in around 100 participating factories. It revealed that individuals experiencing sexual harassment often refrain from sharing or reporting their cases.

Verbal forms of sexual harassment and unwanted touching emerged from the survey as the more prevalent issues, also revealing a widespread lack of understanding about the various forms of such behaviour, particularly among male respondents.

These findings align with those included in Better Work’s discussion paper on sexual harassment prevention in the global garment industry, published in July 2023. Here, evidence shows that sexual harassment interventions are taking place in a “hierarchical, patriarchal culture, shaped by a fundamental lack of acknowledgment of sexual harassment, and a culture of silence where women are largely afraid to report”.

Viet Nam’s survey showed that around 60 percent of the respondents recognized the vulnerability of female workers to sexual harassment in the workplace, particularly in areas such as toilets, factory workshops, and warehouses. Meanwhile, around 10 percent of them reported witnessing instances of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Recognizing the importance of establishing a legal framework for a safe and healthy work environment, the 2019 Viet Nam Labour Code explicitly forbids and condemns workplace sexual harassment. It empowers victims to unilaterally terminate contracts, while companies can dismiss those breaching prevention guidelines and internal rules.

Since 2018, Better Work Viet Nam has maintained strong collaborations with its partners, including the government, business associations, trade unions, brands, and participating factories, to ensure robust efforts in addressing gender equality and preventing sexual harassment from happening across the industry.

“It is imperative to enhance factory management and workers’ awareness of sexual harassment, train them to recognize all its forms, and instill an understanding of the consequences associated with such behaviour,” said Nguyen Hong Ha, Better Work Viet Nam’s Programme Manager.

Better Work Vietnam Enterprise Advisors have been working on ensuring that each participating factory develops a clear sexual harassment policy communicated effectively throughout the workplace. Factory staff have also been actively encouraged to participate in the programme’s dedicated regular sessions and Training-of-Trainers (ToT) schemes, enhancing awareness and dissemination of information across each enterprise.

The programme also collaborated last year with the ILO Global Supply Chain project to deliver a Sexual Harassment Prevention ToT targeting officials from the Viet Nam General Confederation of Labour (VGCL) at national and provincial levels.

Through a collaboration with the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI), Better Work Viet Nam and the ILO also developed a guide on mainstreaming gender through the human resources policies of enterprises. This initiative falls under the Building Bridge Programme, which includes training sessions for members of the government, the private sector and the unions, discussions on integrating gender considerations into HR policies, sharing best practices, and strategizing the development of gender-related policies in workplaces.

“In business, gender parity is crucial, especially in industries with a significant female workforce like garment and footwear,” said Nguyen Tien Tung, Chief Labour Inspector of Viet Nam Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs (MOLISA), and the Chairperson of Better Work Viet Nam Project Advisory Committee.

“The Building Bridges programme is invaluable, offering insights not just on gender equality but also fostering information exchange among government agencies, including MOLISA, the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Vietnam General Confederation of Labour,” he added.

Collaboration with brands has also proven key to challenging the status quo in Viet Nam’s textile industry. PUMA, one of more than 60 international brands collaborating with Better Work over the years, stands at the forefront of this battle across its suppliers.

In 2021, PUMA uploaded a Better Work-produced video course on preventing sexual harassment to its Micro Benefit platform in Viet Nam. A total of 175 employees in six factories successfully completed the training online. PUMA’s Viet Nam sustainability team also conducted training sessions for factory managers in 2022. These managers, in turn, organized classroom-based sexual harassment training, effectively reaching over 70,000 workers.

“Training women on their rights and empowering them to advance their careers further is key to achieving gender equality, where both men and women have equal power and opportunities for education, healthcare, economic participation, and personal development,” said Annie Phan, Senior Manager Social Sustainability, PUMA Viet Nam. “Seventy-five percent of workers producing PUMA goods are women and 71% of managerial positions at our core Tier 1 supplier factories in Vietnam are held by women.”

To further promote gender equality and women’s empowerment across the industry, Better Work Vietnam has run the Gender Equality and Returns (GEAR) project. The project, which started in 2020, integrates technical knowledge, leadership skill development, and on-the-job training to help factories improve line-level productivity. This is achieved by equipping female operators with the skills needed to effectively perform and be promoted as line leaders. So far, 148 female workers have attended and graduated from the project, and currently occupy supervisory positions in their factories.

Another Better Work training approach, known as the Factory Ambassador programme, has also been implemented in Viet Nam to spur change. The project works with core enterprise staff to build capacity and generate spill over impacts on factory personnel.

This enables trainees to emulate the role of a Better Work Enterprise Advisor during the advisory process and coordinate virtual interventions within the Better Work service model. The training also aims to raise awareness about gender equality and promote women’s empowerment at the factory level. Since its launch, over 200 trainees have joined the initiative.

In the current 2022-2027 phase, Better Work Viet Nam is set to intensify its efforts on gender-related issues, aiming to elevate discussions and interventions to the next level. The programme is poised to enhance its strategy in addressing gender inequality and preventing workplace harassment as part of its overarching goal of achieving scalability and lasting change.

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