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Cablegate: Prison Labor and Cashew Nuts in Vietnam

VZCZCXRO9481
RR RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHHI #0450/01 1090912
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 180912Z APR 08 ZDK
FM AMEMBASSY HANOI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 7646
INFO RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH 4607
RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHC/DEPT OF LABOR WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 HANOI 000450

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS AND DRL/IL
STATE PASS USDOL DUS PONTICELLI, ZHAO
USTR FOR DAVID BISBEE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PHUM PGOV PINR ASEC ELAB EAGR ILO ECON VM

SUBJECT: PRISON LABOR AND CASHEW NUTS IN VIETNAM

HANOI 00000450 001.2 OF 003


(U) This cable is Sensitive But Unclassified. For official use
only, not for dissemination outside USG channels or posting on the
internet.

1.(SBU) Summary: Approximately 60 percent of all the prisoners in
Vietnam work, with 10 to 15 percent working on outside contracts
including cashew nut processing. While the GVN says the purpose of
prison labor is "rehabilitation and education" rather than profit,
income generated by prison labor in Vietnam is used to subsidize the
operation of the GVN prison system. Vietnam is the world's leading
producer of cashews and there is currently a labor shortage in the
cashew nut industry in Vietnam, but officials from the GVN Ministry
of Public Security (MPS) as well as commercial cashew nut exporters
told us separately that it would be unlikely for firms to outsource
processing of cashew nuts for export to prisons because of the lower
quality of work done by prison labor. Post will follow up with MPS
in an effort to determine the working conditions of prisoners
engaged in cashew production, but it would be difficult to determine
definitively whether any of what prisoners produce is exported. End
summary.

GVN PRISON SYSTEM PARTLY SUBSIDIZED BY PRISON LABOR
--------------------------------------------- ------

2. (SBU) On April 9, Poloff met with Senior Colonel Nguyen Huu
Duyen, Chief, Labor and Vocational Training of the GVN Ministry of
Public Security (MPS) Prison Management Unit and several of his
deputies. Colonel Duyen was frank and forthcoming throughout the
meeting and provided Poloff with a brief overview of Vietnam's
prison system and the use of prison labor for the "rehabilitation
and education" of Vietnam's prison population.

3. (SBU) Duyen said that the vast majority of prisons in Vietnam are
run by MPS while the fewer military prisons are run, under a
different structure, by the Ministry of Defense. (Note: The Swiss
Embassy in Hanoi, which runs a development program with the MPS
Prison Management Unit, tells us there are 44 national prisons run
by MPS and approximately 90,000 prisoners in the total network. End
note.) Duyen said the GVN pays "thousands of billions" of
Vietnamese Dong (Note. 16,000 Dong equal one USD. End note.) each
year to run an extensive national network of prisons, of which a
"small percentage" is subsidized by income generated from prison
labor. Duyen said overall conditions of prisons in Vietnam had
improved a lot although they were still "not as good as in the
United States or the European Union." He noted that Vietnam
generally could not pay its prisoners for their labor, although he
hoped they could when "Vietnam became an industrialized nation."
All MPS-run prisons are inspected annually by officials from Duyen's
office, the Ministry of Justice, and the Supreme People's Procuracy
(the GVN's prosecutorial arm).

"REHABILITATION" IS GUIDING PRINCIPLE OF PRISON LABOR
--------------------------------------------- --------

4. (SBU) Duyen said the use of prison labor was "not aimed at
economic purposes." Rather, the emphasis was on using labor for the
purposes of rehabilitation and education of prisoners so that they
can become "model citizens" and contribute to the community upon
their release from prison. He said most prisoners had low income
and education levels, and that labor "improved their health and
attitudes" , taught them skills, and ensured they would have "value
in society" upon their release. He said labor also taught prisoners
community and family responsibilities, and Vietnamese prisoners
typically "felt happy" to "complete work projects." The prisoners
going through this system, Duyen said, "typically won't recommit
crimes."

5. (SBU) According to Duyen, labor obligations are part of the
prison sentence, and 60 percent of Vietnam's prisoners perform some
kind of labor with 10 to 15 percent of prisoners working at "outside
factories or workshops" with which the prison camps have contracts.
He said these situations were "run like a business but were not
profitable" as goods generated by "low skill" prison labor are
usually low quality, noting that the quality was not good enough for
exporting. While prisoners are not paid a salary, they may earn
cash if they exceed production quotas. Prisoners may raise animals
and cultivate crops, work in forestry, logging and on cashew nut
plantations, perform carpentry, and produce furniture, clothes and
handicrafts. Duyen said that, according to regulations, prisoners
who were physically able were typically required to work eight hours
a day five days a week, and not more.

PRISON LABOR LAWS RECENTLY UPDATED
----------------------------------


HANOI 00000450 002.2 OF 003


6. (SBU) According to Colonel Duyen, prison labor is regulated by
two major laws in Vietnam: the Ordinance on Implementation of Jail
Sentences (issued in 1993 and revised in October 2007) and Joint
Circular No. 07/2007, a new inter-agency circular involving
cooperation among MPS, Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Defense
which provides guidance on prison labor, vocational training and the
use of income earned by prison labor. According to Duyen, all
prisoners are briefed on the law governing prison labor. Other
sources tell us the push to amend the laws in 2007 was based on the
desire by the GVN for greater transparency on income generated by
prisons and the flow of money. Colonel Duyen said the reason for
the recent updating of the laws was that Vietnam wanted to "make
sure that prison labor was based on the right purpose,
rehabilitation and education." Duyen noted that Vietnam continued
to upgrade its legal system but still, he admitted, "more
regulations were needed."

PRISONER WORK ON CASHEW NUT PLANTATIONS
----------------------------------------

7. (SBU) Poloff raised allegations by family members of prisoners at
Xuan Loc Prison in Dong Nai Province outside HCMC that were forced
to de-shell 20 kilos of cashew nuts per day and were injured by
exposure to toxins. Though he was not familiar with the specific
case, Colonel Duyen acknowledged that prisoners worked on cashew nut
plantations and in the processing of the nuts in factories. He said
prisoners work on 1,000 hectares of cashew tree plantations
nationwide and that there were, indeed, production quotas for
prisoners; however, he said these were "much lower than outside
quotas." He said laughingly that if we had higher quota targets,
the prisoners would not be able to reach them because the education
level of the prisoners is too low. However, if prisoners exceeded
their quotas they could receive "a bonus," which he elaborated as
"cash for their families," gifts or "privileges."

8. (SBU) With regard to safety, Duyen said regulations dictate that
prisoners wear gloves and masks, and ventilators are used in cashew
nut processing factories. He said there was "no physical torture,"
and all prisoners were required to wear safety equipment. He
attributed the specific complaint regarding Xuan Loc Prison, to the
fact that most prisoners "don't like to work."

MPS, EXPORTERS SAY NO CASHEW EXPORTS FROM PRISON LABOR
--------------------------------------------- ---------

9. (SBU) With regard to the use of prison labor to produce exports
such as cashew nuts, Col. Duyen said "I would love to organize
prisoners to produce goods for export," but this was not possible
because of the low quality of goods produced by prisoners. He said
products produced by prisoners, including cashew nuts, were only
purchased and used in domestic markets and by small companies. He
elaborated that only small, typically family-run firms contract
production work with GVN prison camps. However, the larger state
export companies did not because of the low quality of goods
produced by prisoners.

10. (SBU) Asked to clarify, Colonel Duyen said "zero percent" of
Vietnam's exports are produced from prison labor. He elaborated
that it was not technically against Vietnamese law to use prison
labor for export goods, rather it was a question of good business
and profitability.

11. (SBU) In separate meetings recently, cashew exporters made
similar comments. ConGen HCMC Econoff recently visited a couple of
large joint-stock cashew nut companies in southern Vietnam, together
responsible for 20 percent of Vietnam's cashew exports, and found
protective gear and health care facilities readily available. When
asked about the use of prison labor, export firm managers told
Econoff that they did not use prison labor or know of anyone in the
industry who did. Hey added that outsourcing to prison camps would
be unlikely for firms that want to manage their production chain and
control quality.

12. (SBU) Both the International Labor Organization (ILO) office in
Hanoi, which works with Vietnam on forced and child labor concerns,
and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), which
works with Vietnam on its penal system, told us that they did not
have any information on cashew nut production for export in the
penal system. Other NGO contacts knew of the use of prison labor in
state commercial ventures, especially in logging and forestry, but
believed it was done on a small-scale and specific to certain prison
camps in certain regions.

13. (SBU) In response to a request from Poloff, Colonel Duyen said
it may be possible for Mission officers to visit Xuan Loc Prison in

HANOI 00000450 003.2 OF 003


Dong Nai Province to see conditions for prisoners and how labor is
used. The international community is generally not permitted access
to Vietnam's prison network, although specific access requests by
diplomatic missions and international organizations are sometimes
granted.

COMMENT: RELIABLE INFORMATION ELUSIVE
-------------------------------------

14. (SBU) We are encouraged that the MPS seems willing to consider
an independent visit to the prisons in question and will follow up
in an effort to determine the working conditions of prisoners
engaged in cashew production. Commercial considerations may well
mean that, as MPS and the exporters assert, little to no cashews
produced by prison labor are exported. Given the sheer volume of
cashews Vietnam exports as the world's leading producer, however, it
would be difficult if not impossible to disprove completely the
allegations that some amount of cashews produced by prison labor
finds its way into Vietnam's exports.

MICHALAK

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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