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Thursday, January 21, 1999 Published at 06:35 GMT

World: Asia-Pacific

Nike slams Vietnam labour critics

Sports shoe manufacturers have become major employers in Vietnam

By Jonathan Birchall in Hanoi

A senior executive with the American sportswear company Nike has accused some critics of the company's labour practices in Vietnam of indirectly seeking to overthrow Vietnam's communist government.

In a letter to the head of the state controlled Vietnamese Confederation of Trades Unions, the Nike vice president, Mr Joseph Ha, said the company had faced criticism from groups whose aim was, he said, political rather than economic.

Nike Director of Issues Management Vada Manager
Nike's sports shoe manufacturing business is now indirectly Vietnam's largest single employer. Factories run by the company's South Korean and Taiwanese sub-contractors currently employ more than 30,000 people in Vietnam.

Last year, however, Nike's labour practices in Asia were the target of criticism from labour groups in the United States.

Political pressure

In Vietnam, Nike was accused of failing to ensure that its sub-contractors paid adequate wages and that they met appropriate environmental standards.

Now in a letter carried in the trades union newspaper "Laodong", a senior Nike official has suggested that the campaign was at least partly motivated by politics.

A company vice-president, Joseph Ha, wrote that Nike had attracted the attention of overseas Vietnamese groups and others whose political objective was to create what he described as a so-called democratic society in Vietnam.

They target Nike, he argued, because the company creates many jobs in Vietnam.

'Hostile elements'

The remarks are an apparent reference to the role in the anti-Nike campaign of one specific New York-based group, Vietnam Labour Watch, which is headed by an American Vietnamese.

However that organisation was only one of a number of labour groups across the United States involved in the campaign. Last year Vietnam's official press also highlighted cases of abuse by Asian managers at factories working for Nike in Vietnam.

However, the trades union newspaper now argues that workers' legitimate complaints had been exploited by hostile elements abroad - evidence that the Vietnamese authorities do not want the anti-Nike campaign to jeopardise the company's involvement in Vietnam.

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