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Swiss partners find progress and potential for expanding responsible business in Vietnam

6 Dec 2018

Scaling the Better Work model crucial for lasting improvements, tripartite delegation says.

28 November 2018.

Ho Chi Minh City –  Manufacturers in Vietnam have made clear progress in embracing responsible business practices in recent years, with much potential to scale and sustain innovative models in the long run, according to a tripartite Swiss delegation visiting Vietnam this week.

The visit, which formed part of the 3rd Annual Labour Dialogue between the two countries, was led by senior officials from the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) and accompanied by Employer and Trade Union representatives and ILO staff from the flagship Better Work programme.

The bilateral Labour Dialogue has been running since 2016 and aims to strengthen exchange and mutual learning between Swiss and Vietnamese Labour Officials on labour market governance issues. With growing trade ties between the two countries, promoting responsible business practices have emerged as a win-win area for cooperation.

“Ensuring good labour standards in all countries we trade with is important because it creates a level playing field.  This is why we are participating in programmes like Better Work” remarked Boris Zurcher, State Secretary and Head of SECO’s Labour Directorate.

Vietnam, meanwhile, is keen to boost global trade integration shake off its reputation as low wage, low value-added manufacturing base –something which programmes like Better Work are helping support.

“There is now clear evidence that investing in good working conditions is good for business,” added Nguyen Hong Ha, Better Work’s Programme Manager in Vietnam. “Our model shows how that can be done through effective workplace dialogue and a commitment to sustainable improvement”.

With SECO support, Better Work has been promoting improved working conditions and business competitiveness in the apparel and footwear sectors, delivering compliance assessment and tailored advisory and capacity building services to more than 500 factories since 2009.  Today the programme covers more than 750,000 workers –more than 25 percent of the sector’s workforce.

“We have been supporting Better Work from the beginning and are highly convinced of the concept”, explained Raymund Furrer, Ambassador and Head of Economic Cooperation and Development at SECO.  “Evidence shows us there is now also clear business case for what the programme is doing –delivering better conditions for workers and better business outcomes for companies.”

The Delegation joined lunch with workers in canteen.
The Delegation joined lunch with workers in canteen.

Now in its sixth year with the programme, Nam Yang Song May factory is one such beneficiary of Better Work in Vietnam. The factory boasts industry-leading labour turnover rates of just one to two percent, a sign of effective worker-management dialogue and steadily improving working conditions.  According to factory management, high quality industrial relations can give the company an edge in fiercely competitive global supply chains.

By embracing its “continuous learning” approach and piloting complementary initiatives to strengthen gender equality and introduce cleaner production, the factory has also reported impressive gains in a range of areas: “BW helped us reduce duplicate audits from buyers and drive our improvement process. With this support, our non-compliance rate (with labour standards) has fallen from 15 percent to just 2 percent today,” says Christine Luong, the company’s global compliance manager.

Workers are also reaping the benefits.  As a worker representative on the factory’s worker-management committee, cutting worker Hoang Thi Thuy says having a voice and avenue to raise concerns is key. “From meeting with management regularly, I can see they are trying to make the workplace safer and more comfortable for everyone. This is the main reason I have stayed here for 9 years now.”

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