Columbia Sportswear, Vestergaard Frandsen React Swiftly to Evidence of Forced Labor
Forced labor is not treatment, and making a profit is not rehabilitation.
Over the last three years, Human Rights Watch has researched conditions for people in drug detention centers in Vietnam. We uncovered strong evidence that these facilities force detainees to produce goods for local Vietnamese companies, some of which supply multinational companies, under dangerous and degrading conditions for little or no compensation.
Since its September release, our reporton the drug detention centers in southern Vietnam has already compelled two major multinational companies to cut ties with these facilities—US-based Columbia Sportswear Co. and Swiss-based Verstergaard Frandsen, which specializes in making mosquito nets and other disease-control products.
"Involuntary labor of any kind violates our written contracts and policies and also our values," Peter Bragdon, senior vice president of legal and corporate affairs at Columbia Sportswear, said in a statement. "We do not and will not tolerate it."
Meanwhile, we continue to push for the closure of these abusive facilities, and our advocacy continues to gain momentum with other companies whose supply chains involve forced labor, with the Vietnamese government, and with donor nations that fund these centers.
Former detainees described to Human Right Watch being forced to work in cashew processing, agricultural production such as potato or coffee farming, and construction work, as well as in garment and other types of manufacturing. Some weren’t paid. Others were paid well below the Vietnamese minimum wage, their meager wages reduced even further by center-levied charges for food, accommodation and “management fees.” In all cases work was mandatory, and refusing to work led to swift and sometimes brutal punishment.
Such abuses take place on a massive scale. The 123 such centers across the country hold 40,000 people. Between 2000 and 2010, 309,000 people passed through the centers.
When Human Rights Watch received information that mosquito nets for beds bearing tags with the company name Vestergaard Frandsen SA were being produced in “Rehabilitation Center No. 2” in Haiphong city, we reached out to the company with our findings. Vestergaard sent senior staff members to Vietnam to investigate the claim and to New York to meet with Human Rights Watch staff.
Vestergaard’s own investigation confirmed our findings, and the company has since terminated all relationships with the subcontractors that managed the abusive line of production. The company has also developed and implemented a tighter supply chain management system including a supplier code of conduct and regular site visits to ensure that labor abuses do not occur in its supply chain.
Colombia Sportswear Co. was equally responsive to our evidence and concerns, and is working on implementing effective systems that detect and respond to labor abuses so the company does not have to rely on outside reports.
Human Rights Watch is using these findings to press other companies that manufacture goods in Vietnam to ensure that their products are not being produced in detention settings, and to press the Vietnamese government to close compulsory drug detention centers nationwide. We are also talking with key international donors that fund programs and services in these centers to press the Vietnamese government to close them down.