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The new agreement (EVFTA) includes commitments to implement the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) core standards as well as the UN conventions relating to, for example, the fight against climate change and the protection of biodiversity.
Phan Thi Thanh Xuan, deputy chairwoman and general secretary of the Vietnam Leather and Footwear Association said, “This is an important agreement to Vietnam’s export industry. For the leather and footwear industry, it is necessary to focus on labour and environmental criteria, such as improving capacities to meet and take advantage of the opportunities provided by the EVFTA.”
Xuan also warned that businesses could lose orders from the EU if they do not ensure their labourers’ rights.
“Sustainable development and the circular economy are now a trend. Many importers require each pair of exported shoes to be accompanied by a certificate, which must clearly state how the shoes can be recycled after use,” Xuan said. “Importers also require businesses to demonstrate their environmental, employment, and labour regimes, as well as how they handle carbon emissions. If businesses do not meet these requirements, they will not be able to participate in the global value chain.”
In the EVFTA, provisions related to social and environmental development can be found in Chapter 13, on trade and sustainable development. The provision on multilateral labour standards and agreements is of particular interest as it stresses the commitment of both parties to the fundamental rights at work, in accordance with obligations stemming from their participation in the ILO.
Four rights are pinpointed – the freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining; the elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labour; the effective abolition of child labour; and the elimination of discrimination with respect to employment and occupation.
In addition, Chapter 13 also provides for the obligation of both parties to make sustained efforts towards ratifying the fundamental ILO conventions, which cover the four aforementioned rights as well. This issue is to be monitored closely considering that only some of them are currently in force in Vietnam, according to the European Papers Jean Monnet Network.
However, the country has already made progress on some of these commitments as Vietnam ratified the ILO Convention 98 on collective bargaining and adopted the revised Labour Code in November 2019. The nation also confirmed a timeline for the ratification of the remaining two fundamental ILO conventions on freedom of association and on forced labour.