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Cablegate: Tip in Vietnam: Distraction From the Real Issue

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) SUMMARY AND COMMENT: The Ministry of Labor,
Invalids, and Social Affairs (MOLISA) used a recent meeting
with Emboffs and a visiting G/TIP officer to complain about
the decision to resurrect a five year-old labor trafficking
case in the 2004 TIP report. MOLISA challenged some of the
facts in the case and advised us to be aware that the
victims in the case had "complicated motivations" that
should be weighed carefully in the assessment of their
allegations. Embassy notes that this was a one-time case
that occurred five years ago and has not recurred, despite
the fact that the number of workers leaving Vietnam each
year has gone up over four hundred percent. In the years
since the victims were trafficked, there have been
significant changes and reforms in Vietnam's labor export
laws, and the officials responsible for the original abuses
have been arrested, tried, convicted, sentenced, imprisoned,
and after serving their time, released. The USG's continued
concentration on this historic case hurts our efforts to
engage Vietnam on more pressing aspects of the TIP problem,
and damages our credibility in other areas of the
relationship. End summary.

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BRING IT UP. . . .
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2. (U) Nguyen Manh Cuong, the Deputy Director of MOLISA's
International Cooperation Department, said to visiting G/TIP
staffer Leaksmy Norin in a meeting September 8 that MOLISA
was "not satisfied" with the contents of the 2004 TIP report
on Vietnam. He was referring in particular to the mention
of the Daewoosa case, which he noted was "long ago" and a
source of "complicated misunderstandings" between the United
States and Vietnam.

3. (U) At the meeting, Cuong's colleague, Vu Minh Xuan,
deputy chief of the Marketing Section of the Department of
Overseas Labor (DOLAB), launched into an impassioned defense
of the two labor export companies implicated in the Daewoosa
case. He stated that there had been no exploitation of
workers and that, on the contrary, work conditions for
Vietnamese Daewoosa workers were better than they were for
other laborers in American Samoa. He said he himself had
visited the factory and could attest to this, as well as the
fact that the labor export companies had obeyed their
contracts and all necessary procedures. Norin and Poloff
both responded to Xuan, noting that the fact of exploitation
and abusive labor conditions at the Daewoosa factory had
been established beyond a doubt, and suggested that the
factory owners had misled Xuan during his visit. Cuong,
visibly displeased with Xuan, shut down his colleague's
efforts to protest further the facts of the case.

4. (U) Cuong stipulated that the workers in the Daewoosa
case had been abused, but added that some of the workers had
"complicated motivations" in making accusations against
Vietnam. Some of them, he noted, were associated with
"hostile forces" in the U.S. [Note: "hostile forces" is a
term the GVN often uses to describe certain vocal groups of
former Vietnamese refugees who continue to try to undermine
the Vietnamese government and U.S.-SRV relations. End
note.] Also, he noted to Poloff after the meeting, some of
the victims wanted to stay in the United States and some had
filed civil suits. "We have discussed all of this for many
hours already," Cuong noted during the meeting, "several
years ago when this case occurred. I thought we understood
each other then, but now it seems we have to do it again."
Cuong offered to open a new dialogue on the Daewoosa case
with U.S. Embassy officers to help improve the USG's
understanding of the GVN position.


5. (SBU) Comment: The atmospherics of the MOLISA meeting
were chilly. Even leaving aside the somewhat extreme
revisionist history espoused by DOLAB's marketing officer,
the GVN does not see why the USG would bring up an isolated
five year-old case except as a political exercise in Vietnam-
bashing. As Cuong pointed out, many of the facts in the
Daewoosa case were established through depositions and
affidavits taken from victims, and allegations of abuse of
returned victims came from those with links to anti-SRV
groups and from those who were simultaneously applying for
asylum. The allegations of abuse of returned victims have
never, to our knowledge, been independently verified. The
GVN maintains that the victims in the Daewoosa case have
"complicated" motivations that should be weighed when
evaluating claims of abuse.

6. (U) Comment continued: The two Vietnamese companies
involved in the Daewoosa case, IMS and TC-12, were and are
for-profit entities owned by GVN ministries. However, they
did not and do not function as "utilities" or take day-to-
day direction and management from the GVN. The GVN's
sanction of these companies and the arrest, prosecution,
conviction, and imprisonment of the companies' senior
executives for crimes related to the Daewoosa case appear to
demonstrate that they were not acting in accordance with GVN
policy or instructions. The GVN maintains that the case
represented the actions of rogue executives who were
subsequently punished. The fact that, in the five years
since the case, no similar cases have occurred supports that

7. (U) Comment continued: Since the Daewoosa case, the GVN
has made significant changes to its labor code, including
the way labor export is administered. New protections

- the codification of the rights and responsibilities
of both labor export companies and workers, which gives
workers a legal foundation on which to base efforts to seek
compensation from labor export companies in disputes;

- the establishment of nine labor attache positions in
the top consumer countries for Vietnamese labor to allow the
GVN to collect information directly on working conditions
and labor disputes without filtering it through interested
parties, either workers or labor export companies;

- the funding of a new account for the protection and
welfare of overseas workers, allowing the GVN to assist
overseas workers in distress without requiring them to rely
on the labor export companies or their overseas employers;

- the creation of standards of operation for labor
export companies and mechanisms for evaluation, monitoring,
and de-licensing if necessary.

Finally, in particularly difficult or high-profile cases,
such as the series of labor disputes involving Vietnamese
workers on construction sites in Malaysia in early 2004,
MOLISA will send inspectors and officials to supplement the
labor attache office's efforts to establish facts and assist

8. (U) Comment continued: The absence of repeat Daewoosa-
style labor exploitation cases involving Vietnamese workers
or Vietnamese labor export companies in the five years since
the Daewoosa workers were trafficked in 1999 (despite a more
than 400 percent increase in the number of workers sent
overseas) is a result of two complementary factors: the
deterrent created by the severe sanctions applied to IMS and
TC12 and their managers; and the substantial profits
available to labor export companies from the high and
growing legitimate demand for workers.

9. (U) Comment continued: The GVN has made significant
efforts to reconcile the competing goals of protecting
worker interests and promoting labor export despite
operating in the administrative and regulatory context of a
developing country with limited human and material
resources. The fact that no labor trafficking cases have
been reported by any source in the five years since the
trafficking of the Daewoosa victims is proof that, whatever
systemic weaknesses may remain in the Vietnamese labor
export sector, they are not severe.

10. (U) Comment continued: In contrast, trafficking of women
and children to China, Cambodia, and further afield is a
significant and possibly increasing problem. The GVN is
seriously concerned about this and is applying increasing
financial and political resources to it. U.S. engagement on
trafficking in Vietnam would be much more effective - and
more welcome - if it focused on the daily reality of sex-
related trafficking instead of the hypothetical possibility
of a recurrence of a problem that occurred once five years

11. (U) Comment continued: In addition to complicating our
efforts to engage the Vietnamese on trafficking, the
continued emphasis on this old case undercuts our "look to
the future rather than the past" message and hurts our
credibility when pressing on other issues of importance,
such as IPR, religious freedom, and human rights. We should
use the upcoming TIP Watch List review to refocus our
attention away from the Daewoosa case and back on the issue
of women and children trafficked for sexual exploitation.

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