CPVW MR - Huge strike by some 90,000 Pouyen shoe workers, some strike leaders arrested 12Jul2001Below is CPVW’s 27th July letter to 4 client companies of Pou Yuen Vietnam: adidas, New Balance, Nike, and Puma, asking them to conduct investigations to identify workers sacked or arrested for their part in the June 2011 strike at Pou Yuen.

To: William Anderson, Adidas
Lary Brown, New Balance (NOTE: See bottom for update on New Balance)
Amanda Tucker, Nike
Reiner Hengstmann, Puma

27th July 2011

Dear Mr. Anderson, Mr. Brown, Ms. Tucker, Dr. Hengstmann

Pou Yuen Vietnam’s June 2011 Strike –
Independent Investigations To Find Facts About Pou Yuen’s Actions, And About
Workers Arrested, Pushed, Or Otherwise Mistreated After Taking Part

First, may I congratulate Adidas for the steps it has taken. I understand from my contacts at the Workers Rights Consortium and other groups that Adidas said it had already made enquiries to Pou Yuen and VGCL, had a meeting with the police and provincial authorities, and its field staff may interview workers for post-strike feedback.

Adidas has shown its willingness to find facts, and the interviews presumably reflect an intention to do independent investigations rather than fully rely on assurances by Pou Yuen and the authorities.

I write to suggest that Adidas, New Balance, Nike, and Puma – as current or potential clients of Pou Yuen Vietnam – individually or cooperatively undertake independent fact-finding investigations. Such investigations would be thorough and build on steps already started by Adidas.

The National Secretaries of 2 of Australia’s biggest unions, the Transport Workers Union and the Australian Workers Union, have told me that they are planning to send a delegation to Vietnam to learn about the treatment of strike leaders of a previous strike, and this one. The wider Australian union movement may also get involved, through a draft Resolution before the ACTU Executive.

A federal MP, Chris Hayes, is planning a bi-partisan delegation of parliamentarians, for the same purpose.

My group has started its own investigations. Although we must move slowly to avoid arrests by the secret police, our experience is that sooner or later we can document some of the events. So far we know that some workers were interrogated by the police, of whom at least some have been released, and some were sacked or pushed for their involvement in the strike. Our investigations to find more specific evidence are continuing.

Efforts such as above will eventually lead to more facts coming out. When that happens, given that these groups have far less access and fewer resources than you do, your customers and shareholders could wonder why, if they learn that your companies decided not to do investigations and instead relied on assurances by Pou Yuen and the authorities.

Below, I will discuss why independent investigations are necessary, then suggest how they might be done.

Why are independent and thorough investigations necessary?

Pou Yuen, VGCL, the police, and the authorities all have strong and clear reasons for denial or turning a blind eye: Pou Yuen, to avoid losing future contracts. VGCL, to avoid damaging its attempts to gain affiliation with international labor organisations. The police, to keep their operations secret. The authorities, for maintenance of external image. Therefore, it may be too optimistic to rely on their assurances alone;

It is well-known among Vietnamese that strike leaders are interrogated by the police, and sacked or otherwise mistreated by employers. Here are some better-known examples, for which I can provide supporting documents if you ask:

—–o In 2010, 3 people were sentenced to up to 9 years imprisonment for leading a strike at the My Phong shoe factory in the Tra Vinh province, and for distributing leaflets criticising low wages, rough treatment of workers by Taiwanese supervisors, inaction by VGCL, and low minimum wages set by the authorities. After the authorities announced their arrests and imprisonment, there have been outcries, including by some global union federations. The three have been badly mistreated in prison, including physical beatings and months of solitary confinement.

—–o In mid 2008, my group obtained the names of 14 workers arrested and questioned by police, and/or sacked or publicly scolded by Ching Luh for taking active parts in an April 2008 strike. Nike, not doing its own investigations and instead relying on this contract factory’s assurances, denied our allegations (Later that year, Nike investigated and confirmed our allegations made on Australian TV evening news about another contract factory, Hytex in Malaysia). In mid 2009 we took the Ching Luh matter to European media. Danmarks Radio and consumer magazines in 10 European countries then reported on an investigation in which a Danish reporter talked to workers and confirmed our allegations. In late 2009 we also approached StoreBrand, an European institutional investor, which probed further.

One of VGCL’s key roles is to prevent and stop strikes. It spends huge resources to do so and keep an eye on potential strike leaders:

—–o Specifically, at Pou Yuen, it puts nearly 700 officials there:
“presently the number of [VGCL] workplace cadres at the Pouyen company has reached 675, located in every production team, supervising the 47,000 union members and the 66,000 workers. Thanks to the omnipresent web of cadres, which discovers workers’ grievances in a timely manner to deal with them, for many years there have not been big labor conflicts.”
(“hiện số cán bộ CĐCS của Cty Pouyen lên tới 675 người, được phân bổ tới từng tổ sản xuất, quản lý tổng cộng 47.000 đoàn viên/66.000 CN. Do mạng lưới cán bộ CĐ phủ khắp, kịp thời ghi nhận bức xúc của CN để giải quyết ngay từ khi mới manh nha nên nhiều năm liền Cty này chưa xảy ra tranh chấp lao động đông người.”)
Source: News item from VGCL’s official newspaper, Lao Dong (Labor), No. 228 dated 09/10/2009 “600+ Pouyen workers stopped work to demand production bonus”

—–o Mr. Củ Phát Nghiệp, president of VGCL’s branch at Pou Yuen, recently told workers that VGCL will punish them for “demanding too much, going on strike for too long”, by cutting VGCL benefits such as gifts for newlywed or seriously ill workers.

How might such investigations be undertaken?

I assume that your investigations would aim to learn about:

• Treatment of workers: Which workers were arrested, sacked, invited to resign, or otherwise mistreated for their part in the strike;

• Pou Yuen’s actions: During the strike, what written and verbal statements its managers made to workers; After the strike, has it kept its promises about wages and supplements, and has it tightened any other benefits.

How might such investigations be undertaken? May I suggest some ideas here:

Talk with the Taiwanese reporters who reported about the arrests;

• Affirmatively help whistleblowers to report directly to you, through means which are convenient and safe. For example: Create a telephone hotline, email address, and chat nicks specifically for this purpose; Ask Pou Yuen to post notices in which your companies invite and encourage workers to give information; Have your own – not Pou Yuen’s – staff respond to leads, using your own interpreters if needed; Most importantly, assure workers that if Pou Yuen sacks or punishes them for contacting you, they will be reinstated plus paid a compensation much larger than the moneys they lose (because getting back only what they lose is not sufficient to counter obvious, steep disincentives for would-be whistleblowers);

Ask Pou Yuen to provide verifiable reports to you. Based on information sources such as payroll, how many workers were in each team just before the strike, and just after? For workers absent or temporarily absent since the strike, Pou Yuen should contact them to find out and report back. Importantly, provide their contact details for you to independently verify;

Your CSR staff or independent investigators interview all the above absentees and survey other workers. The interviews should be with 1 worker at a time, not in the presence of other workers unless they ask, and not in the presence of VGCL or other officials.

About Adidas’ hotline, I would appreciate being given the number so we can inform workers.

Because there is much interest in this matter, we intend to publicise this letter, including posting it on our website. As to your replies, we will share their contents with people and groups cooperating with our investigations. And, if you indicate that you agree, we will post on our website.

Sincerely

Trung Doan – Secretary

UPDATE 28th July 2011: Larry Brown of New Balance advised us that he is no longer with New Balance, and Judith Mackay would handle this matter. We have re-sent our letter to her.

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