In a report released 22nd July 2013, “Abuse-Free Development – How the World Bank Should Safeguard Against Human Rights Violations”, Human Rights Watch cited Vietnam’s so-called drug rehabilitation centres among its case studies.

These are state-owned profit centres. Up to 2011, a total of some 309,000 inmates – including at least 11,000 children (estimates by authorities for inmates held in and around Saigon) – have passed and worked as forced laborers to create profits for state-owned enterprises.


The World Bank gave $35 million dollars from 2005 to 2012 to assist the Hanoi authorities in running their forced-labor centres. When questioned by HRW, World Bank replied that it wasn’t aware of forced labor and forced child labor.

This, despite Vietnam’s decrees covering these centres clearly stating that inmates must work, and centre management may punish those who disobey.


Below is the full text, without footnotes, of the Vietnam Case Study from pages 39-44 of this 65-page report.  To aid quick reading, we have highlighted some texts which we consider noteworthy or typical of their surroundings.

—Download HRW’s July 2013 World Bank report here.

—Download HRW’s September 2011 “Rehab Archipelago” report here.

Case Study III: Forced Labor, Other Abuses in Drug Detention Centers in Southern Vietnam

In Vietnam, people dependent on drugs can be held in government detention centers, where they are forced to perform menial labor for up to four years, in the name of “treatment” or “rehabilitation.”115

Human Rights Watch’s September 2011 report, “The Rehab Archipelago: Forced Labor and Other Abuses in Drug Detention Centers in Southern Vietnam,” documents arbitrary detention, forced labor, torture, and other forms of ill treatment in 14 detention centers under the authority of the Ho Chi Minh City government. Because the laws, regulations, and principles that govern drug detention centers in and around Ho Chi Minh City apply to all of Vietnam’s drug detention centers, Human Rights Watch is concerned that the abuses described in this report are present in centers in other parts of Vietnam, of which there are over a hundred.116

Detainees are held without due process and are forced to work. None of the people whom Human Rights Watch interviewed in the course of researching the 2011 report saw a lawyer, judge, or court at any time before or during their detention in drug detention centers, and—despite regulations providing for appeal of administrative decisions— were unaware of means to appeal the decision to detain them in a center.

Refusing to work or violating center rules results in punishment that in some cases amounts to torture. One detainee told Human Rights Watch: Those who refused to work were beaten by the guards and then put into the disciplinary room. In the end they agreed to work.”117 Former detainees told Human Rights Watch how they were beaten with wooden truncheons, shocked with electrical batons, and deprived of food and water. Children as young as 12-years-old who use drugs are also held in these centers, where they have been forced to work, beaten, and abused.

The result is a system of forced labor on a massive scale: between 2000 and 2010, over 309,000 people across Vietnam passed through the centers, all of whom were required to work producing goods for the centers. Former detainees told Human Rights Watch how they are forced to work in cashew processing, 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.118

The World Bank

     The World Bank, together with a number of other international donors, supported the Vietnamese government to provide HIV and healthcare interventions in these centers. Through a $35 million 2005 project that concluded in 2012, the World Bank provided approximately $1.5 million funding for various HIV-related services in drug detention centers.119 Under what it described as a pilot program, the Bank funded HIV clinics in three centers, providing funds to the Vietnamese government to recruit temporary consultants (doctors and nurses) and renovate health clinics and medical equipment inside the centers.120 As a separate component of the same project, government authorities in 20 provinces were given funds to implement various HIV-related services in drug detention centers.

The centers in which the World Bank operated are governed by the same decrees as centers in the rest of Vietnam. According to government regulations, labor therapy (lao dong tri lieu) is one of the official five steps of drug rehabilitation. The centers must “organize therapeutic labor with the aim of recovering health and labor skills for drug addicts.”121 The decrees that govern drug detention centers in Vietnam stipulate that work in the centers is not optional and center directors are authorized to punish detainees for refusing to obey regulations, including the obligation to work.122 According to government decrees, such punishments may take the form of reprimands, warnings, or “education in a disciplinary room.”123

ILLUS World Bank, please be responsible- Human Rights Watch[PHOTO] A detainee overseer at a drug detention center in Vietnam watches the work of other detainees in a cashew workshop. Refusing to work, or violating center rules, results in punishment that in some cases is torture. The World Bank provided approximately $1.5 million in funding for various HIV-related services in Vietnamese drug detention centers through a US $35 million project that concluded in 2012. © 2011 Private

Under Vietnamese law, ill detainees have a right to be released to receive treatment in community settings when the center is unable to provide adequate healthcare services.124 However, in practice, donor support for centers to provide HIV and other health services has had the perverse impact of facilitating the continued detention of individuals who would otherwise be eligible for release from detention and transferred to a government hospital or returned home for treatment and care.

The World Bank told Human Rights Watch that it had considered:

[E]conomic, technical, financial, environmental, social, and institutional framework[s], including the legal framework affecting the proposed project, in addition to risks, including reputational risks, associated with the proposed project. In terms of social issues, World Bank staff assesses the potential impact on all affected persons under the proposed project. In turn, these requirements are reinforced under Section 3.01 of the Development Grant Agreement for the Project, which requires Vietnam to carry out the Project ‘in conformity with appropriate … public health practices, and sound … health standards acceptable to the Association.’125

Despite undertaking this analysis, there is no evidence that the World Bank had identified the risk of forced labor, torture, or arbitrary detention, including of children. When asked if the World Bank had documented human rights violations in the centers, the World Bank country director stated:

     We are not aware of World Bank staff receiving any reports of human rights violations in the drug rehabilitation clinics supported by the Project. If we do receive such a report we would make this a focus of a supervision mission to ensure all Bank policies are met and that any concerns are fully examined.126

As the centers in which the World Bank operated are governed by the same decrees as centers in the rest of Vietnam, Human Rights Watch does not find it credible that detainees in those centers were accorded proper due process protections or were not forced to work. When Human Rights Watch provided evidence of human rights abuses in drug detention centers in Vietnam to the World Bank, it responded by saying that the part of the project that funded services in the detention facilities had been completed.127

Human Rights Due Diligence

     If the World Bank had analyzed the human rights risks of this project, by undertaking basic research on how these centers operate and how detainees are placed in them, it could have learned that: •

– Detainees, including children, are subject to forced labor in these detention centers; •

-Detainees have no access to due process; and •

– Ill detainees, including those with HIV, had the right to be released if they are not able to receive the treatment they need in the centers.

Once identified, the World Bank could have avoided the risks to the Bank by supporting HIVspecific health services in the community for center detainees if those detainees were released from drug detention centers. There are some indications that the centers were in fact prepared to release ill detainees, as recognized in the Bank’s written response to Human Rights Watch’s concerns.128 Such an approach would have provided centers with a significant incentive to release sick detainees from arbitrary detention and avoided the Bank contributing to the health costs of people arbitrarily detained and subjected to forced labor.

It would also have aligned Bank support with international law and the existing Vietnamese legal framework and avoided a scenario in which HIV-positive project beneficiaries received healthcare, but were otherwise left in arbitrary detention. Additionally, it would have strengthened the HIV capacity of existing healthcare settings in the community.

Further, the Bank could have explored the potential for expanding funding support of voluntary, community-based drug dependency treatment, including appropriate services for women and children, and funding HIV-specific health services as part of such voluntary systems. It could have ensured that services for children were age-specific, medically appropriate, and include educational components. This could have opened a space for the World Bank to emphasize to the Vietnamese government the enhanced effectiveness of voluntary, community-based drug treatment.