Forcing change from the outside? The role of trade-labour linkages in transforming Vietnam’s labour regime

Angie N Tran, Jennifer Bair, Marion Werner
DOI number
#Trade and FDI
#Social and working conditions

Do trade-labour linkages improve the conditions and rights of workers in low-wage countries? We consider this question in Vietnam, a market economy with socialist orientation that has seen rapid growth in export manufacturing and foreign direct investment, while signing regional trade agreements, which include labour rights provisions, with high-income trading partners. Our paper focuses on two such agreements – the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the European Union-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement. We ask how, if at all, these negotiations have influenced changes in Vietnam's labour regime, particularly regarding the representation and participation of workers in the country's system of industrial relations. Comparing binding and nonbinding provisions, we find that the effects of trade-labour linkages are mediated by their enforceability, and prospects for strengthening associational rights are improved by the possibility of commercial sanction. Overall, we find that gains for workers in Vietnam continue to be made by collective action, despite a context hostile to freedom of association, and that external influences to improve labour standards and conditions have had a minimal effect.

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