|Volume 9, Issue 2||Spring 1999|
Anti-Nike Vietnamese American Labor Groups Have No Hidden Political Agenda
by Thuyen Nguyen, Vietnam Labor Watch
In a letter to the Vietnam Confederation of Labor, Nike Vice President Joseph M. Ha accused Vietnamese-American labor advocacy groups of trying to "subvert...Vietnam," and turn it into a US-style democracy. In his letter, reported by the Associated Press and BBC on January 20, 1999, Ha says that labor rights groups "target NIKE because NIKE helps create manyjobs in Vietnam. Their political objective is to create a so-called "democratic" society on the US model. One nation does not need to use the model of another nation. Every nation has its own internal political system. NIKE believes absolutely in this."
NIKE's accusations are patently false. There has never been any hidden agenda among anti-NIKE Vietnamese-American advocacy groups such as Vietnam Labor Watch (VLW). To the contrary, Vietnam Labor Watch has openly and aggressively advocated for improved trade relations between the US and Vietnam with the US government and Congress. Our goal is to increase responsible American investment in Vietnam. Most US companies are good employers; NIKE is one of the exceptions. NIKE's behavior has deepened Vietnam's fears that foreign companies invest with the intention of exploiting Vietnam's resources and people. NIKe has earned well its shameful reputation as the premier promoter of sweatshop labor in the developing world. Mr. Ha's statement simply confirms what we believe to be Nike's actual, internal corporate policy. We believe that Nike does not intend to express such policy in public and instead the company often uses the principles of liberalism to sell its products.
This most recent NIKE statement is a crude attempt to stop the on-going cooperation between Vietnam Labor Watch and labor organizations in Vietnam by appealing to the anti-American sentiments of some Vietnamese. NIKE hopes to paint anti-NIKE activists as Americans harboring a hidden agenda to change Vietnam's political system. This accusation is irresponsible and reckless. We demand a retraction and an apology from NIKE.
Vietnam Labor Watch knows well that Vietnam is a poor country and that export-production jobs are crucial to its economy, especially given the current Asian financial crisis. We have therefore always been very careful to promote foreign corporations' respect for workers' rights while trying to increase overall investment in Vietnam at the same time. Our efforts to date have been successful. NIKE has made substantial improvements, agreeing to pay minimum wage, eliminate the use of toxic solvents, abide by Vietnamese labor law and, most importantly, cease the physical abuse of workers.
The irony is that NIKE's abuses have enabled us to advocate effectively for increased American investment in Vietnam. By publicizing NIKE's labor abuses and facilitating the work of groups like ours, Vietnam has shown the world that it has a strong labor rights framework. Vietnam Labor Watch is proud to have been a part of the successful effort to secure for Vietnam the Jackson-Vanik waiver and Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and Export-Import Bank privileges.
For the past three years Vietnam Labor Watch has been working with the Vietnam General Confederation of Labor and Ministry of Labor departments to monitor labor abuses in Vietnam. With the help of these organizations we have been able to obtain accurate and timely information about conditions in NIKE's factories. This cooperation is the key to our success in bringing the plight of Vietnamese workers making NIKE shoes to the attention of the world public. Exposed and embarrassed, NIKE had no choice but to concede their position, promising in May 1998 to reform their labor practices. Realizing that the success of the NIKe protest stems from the excellent cooperation between Vietnam Labor Watch and labor organizations in Vietnam, NIKE's latest action is a simple attempt to sabotage this cooperation. Vietnamese everywhere will recognize this divide-and-conquer approach, a familiar tactic used many times by those foreign powers who would have been Vietnam's colonial masters.
We believe that Vietnam will continue its social and economic development, and we will continue to pursue our goal of a prosperous Vietnam with a strong internal system of labor rights.