Today we release our 4-page summary document, quoting some key findings and recommendations from Human Rights Watch’s 127-page report released 2 days ago, detailing evidence that the Vietnamese authorities’ drug rehabilitation centres are in fact forced-labor sweatshops.

Some 40 thousand drug users are forcibly detained and beaten into working by the authorities. Wages, if any, are well below living-wage levels. The authorities deduct so much for the service of detention that some are indebted when released.

Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of children under 18 are also held in the centres. They are also beaten into working, and sleep in the same rooms as stranger adults.

Today we sent letters urging action to the ITUC (International Trade Union Confederation) and ITUC-Asia Pacific (Asia Pacific section of ITUC). Our members in Australia wrote to the ACTU (Australian Council of Trade Unions), AWU (Australian Workers Union) and TWU (Transport Workers Union), and the Australian Prime Minister, Foreign and Trade Ministers.

Below is our summary document.


The Rehab Archipelago

Forced Labor and Other Abuses in Drug Detention Centers in Southern Vietnam

ILLUS Vietnamese authorities forced-labor sweatshops masquerading as Drug rehab centres
Photo and quote from Human Rights Watch September 2011 report on the Vietnamese authorities' forced-labor "drug rehab" centres
  • Profit motive is central, not adjunct, to drug forced labor centres: “Forced labor and physical abuse are not an adjunct to drug dependency treatment in Vietnam. Rather, they are central to how the centers operate.”
  • Most workers are acquired by force: “most people enter the centers on a compulsory basis after being detained by police or local authorities”
  • Centres operate under administrative system with little safeguards: “court orders are not required to round up people who use drugs and detain them at the centers .. former detainees reported they had no lawyer or hearing .. When their detentions were extended, detainees reported that they [have no] opportunity for appeal.”
  • Numbers rising rapidly, 309,000 workers have passed through 123 centres: “In 2000, there were 56 drug detention centers across Vietnam; by early 2011 that number had risen to 123 centers. Between 2000 and 2010, over 309,000 people across Vietnam passed through the centers”
  • Laws have extended their detention from 3 months to 4 years: “At the beginning of 2000, the law provided for a person dependent on drugs to be detained for treatment from three months to a year. In 2009 the National Assembly passed a law allowing for individuals to be held for up to four years for supposed drug treatment.”
  • Detainees are forced to work by beating and other forms of violence: “Refusing to work, or violating any one of a number of center rules, results in beatings or confinement in disciplinary rooms (phong ky luat). Staff beat detainees with wooden truncheons or shock them with electrical batons, sometimes causing them to faint. In disciplinary rooms— either crowded punishment rooms or solitary confinement cells— physical deprivation is used as an additional form of punishment” .. “Asked why he performed such hazardous work, [a detainee] said: If you refused to work they slapped you. If you still refused to work then they sent you to the punishment room. Everyone worked.
  • Children are forced to work, beaten and sleep in same room as adults: “In addition to adults, children who use drugs are also held in drug detention centers. Like adults, they are forced to work, beaten, and abused.”.. “Of the 34 former detainees whose testimony forms the basis of this report, 10 are women and 3 were children (i.e. under the age of 18) when first detained.” Here are some quotes from detainee testimonies:

There were less than a thousand of us there, a number of women, and we were all drug users. The age range was from 14 to 56-years-old. We slept together, ate together, and worked together .. I did vegetable farming and watering eight hours a day. Everyone worked. No one refused

There were some boys 16 and 17. I think there were younger ones too but I’m not sure. They were treated exactly the same as adults. We lived the same, ate the same, and worked the same. If you refused to work you were beaten by the staff or by the team leader chosen by the staff or both.

I was beaten and put into a punishment room for fighting. The staff beat me on the arm and back with a truncheon.… Then I went to the punishment room. It was about 6 by 12 meters and when I was in there 41 others were too. It was locked .. We had no contact with other detainees or relative .. I was kept there for three months and seven days.

In my room of approximately 30, we all slept on mats of the floor and there were five or six boys ages 15, 16, and 17.

  • Wages are well below living wage, and withheld; Some are unpaid: “Some former detainees told Human Rights Watch that the labor they were forced to perform was unpaid. More commonly, forced labor is paid at wages well below the minimum wage. Centers commonly hold the wages of detainees as credit, against which centers levy charges for items such as food, accommodation, and “managerial fees.” .. These charges often represent a significant amount—in some cases all—the detainee’s wages. Some detainees, when they are released from detention, owe the center money.”
  • Detainees work on cashews, potato, coffee, garment, construction,..: “cashew processing is common[, involving] 11 of the 16 centers under the administration of Ho Chi Minh City authorities  .. [As] the world’s leading exporter of cashew nuts, [Vietnam] exports mainly to the United States (US) and European Union (EU).”.. “Former detainees also described how they are forced to work in other forms of agricultural production (either for outside sale, such as potato or coffee farming, or for consumption by detainees), garment manufacturing, other forms of manufacturing (such as making bamboo and rattan products), and construction work.”
  • Authorities use “vocational training” and “drug treatment” as a veil: ”The Vietnamese government deliberately uses the term vocational training as a euphemism to describe what is nothing less than forced labor in the centers” .. “No one who had been detained described any form of scientifically or medically appropriate drug dependency treatment within a center. Psychosocial counseling involved lectures on the evils of drug use and morning exercises while chanting slogans such as “Healthy! Healthy! Healthy!” .. “According to the testimony of former detainees, husking cashews is their “labor therapy.”
  • Companies sourcing from drug forced-labor centres enjoy tax benefits: “Under Vietnamese law, companies who source products from these centers are eligible for tax exemptions  .. Some of the products [may] make their way into the supply chain of companies who sell goods abroad, including to the US and Europe.”
  • Drug forced labor centres do not reduce drug dependency: “[Vietnamese authorities] acknowledge that Vietnam’s system of forced labor in detention centers is not effective drug dependency treatment. Rates of relapse to drug use after “treatment” in the centers have been reported at between 80 and 97 percent. Yet Vietnamese officials have simply redoubled their efforts, lengthening periods of detention and institutionalizing labor therapy on an industrial scale.”
  • Aid donors’ help for HIV-infected detainees have an unintended consequence: detainees suffer, authorities profit: “between 15 and 60 percent of individuals in drug detention centers in Vietnam are infected with HIV .. Among the most significant donors [are] the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the Global Fund to Fight AIDS (the GF), and the World Bank. The United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the US Department of State’s International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) have funded capacity building programs for staff of the centers” .. “While the provision of HIV treatment can be life-saving, donor support for expanded HIV treatment inside centers has had the perverse impact of enabling the government to maximize profits from the centers by detaining HIV-positive drug users—and subjecting them to forced labor—for more time. Human Rights Watch believes that donor support should focus on releasing detainees from these centers so they can access appropriate treatment in the community”


  • Vietnamese authorities shouldpermanently close Vietnam’s drug detention centers” .. “[Investigate] human rights abuses and criminal acts” .. “Provide adequate compensation and medical care to detainees and former detainees” .. “expand access to voluntary, community-based drug dependency treatment”
  • Vietnamese and foreign companies should “Cease all commercial relationships [with the forced-labor centres]” .. “[take] appropriate remedial measures”
  • United Nations agencies, including UNODC, WHO, OHCHR and UNAIDS, should “Review all funding, programming, and activities directed to assisting Vietnam’s drug detention centers”
  • Relevant UN Special Rapporteurs, Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, and the Committee on the Rights of the Child should “Request an invitation to visit Vietnam to investigate”
  • The Association of Southeastern Nations Inter-Governmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) should “prepare a study on the human rights abuses [in] drug detention centers in Association of Southeastern Nations member states”
  • ILO should “Instruct ILO’s Hanoi office to investigate .. Instruct ILO’s Special Action Program to Combat Forced Labor to engage the [Vietnamese] Ministry of Labor to end forced labor in drug detention centers.”
  • Nations and NGOs assisting Vietnam: “For donors funding capacity building projects on drug dependency treatment for drug detention center staff, or other Ministry of Labor staff who might work in drug detention centers, cease such projects immediately” ..
  • Vietnam’s trading partners: “For countries negotiating or engaged in preferential trade programs with Vietnam, initiate an ongoing review of Vietnam’s eligibility”
  • US: “The US trade representative should consider Vietnam’s eligibility for Generalized System of Preferences “developing country” status” .. “the US Department of Labor should add cashews from Vietnam to its [forced or child labor] list”
  • EU: “the EU should raise with the government of Vietnam the need to end forced labor in drug detention centers before the [Vietnam-EU free trade] agreement is finalized”