So goes the title of a recent article about international textile companies operating in Viet Nam. The first thought that always pops into my head whenever I read about rising labor costs is how much by local standards and how much is enough in terms of net profit? Why not pay your employees a living wage and stop exploiting them in the name of a fatter bottom line?
That, of course, is one of the fundamental problems with global capitalism. Low labor costs used to be a major selling point for Viet Nam. There’s nothing wrong with low labor costs by international standards if the local wage is more than enough to live on.
As the article notes, Vietnam raised its minimum wage by an average of 5.3% last January to VND 4.18 million ($181). I can assure you that $181 a month for a back-breaking job is not very much, not in 2019.
Here’s an example that illustrates just how large the profit margin is in the clothing industry. You can go to a market in Phnom Penh, Cambodia that sells Dockers pants, among many other products, and get a pair for $12, bargained down from $16. The seller probably still makes 100% profit for slacks that sell for $50 or $60 in the US. I mentioned that to a saleswoman in the men’s section of a Macy’s in the US and she just gave me a blank stare. Minus source and destination country overhead and shipping costs, that’s still a huge profit.
The silver lining in this rather dark and ominous cloud is that these greedy companies will eventually run out of countries and workers to exploit. Maybe not in my lifetime but it will happen. People over profit!
a state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often amusing as a result.
That and surreal are the words that best describe a situation I encountered while reading an online US newspaper article about the white supremacist “rally” in Charlottesville, VA. (This was before the violence, including deaths and injuries, that occurred the following day.)
Scrolling down, I suddenly noticed a two-minute EducationUSA video with a link to learn more. Below are two screenshots.
The irony became much thicker after Donald Trump failed to condemn the actions of the white supremacists in this Tweet:
Below is an excerpt from my latest CounterPunch article about Bob Kerrey and Fulbright University Vietnam. Think of it as the 2017 bookend to my 2016 CP article, Bob Kerrey and Fulbright University – What were they thinking?, published a month after the controversy erupted. Follow this link to read it in its entirety.
“One simply cannot engage in barbarous action without becoming a barbarian… one cannot defend human values by calculated and unprovoked violence without doing mortal damage to the values one is trying to defend.”
– J William Fulbright, The Arrogance of Power
More than 48 years after mortal damage was inflicted with a vengeance on both human beings and human values in a quiet village in Bến Tre province in the Mekong Delta, justice, fairness, and common decency won a minor victory when Bob Kerrey, former Nebraska governor, U.S. senator, New School president, decorated veteran, and self-confessed war criminal, quietly resigned from his high-profile position as chairman of the Fulbright University Vietnam (FUV) board of trustees, according to reliable sources.
Kerrey, whose appointment was announced one year ago at the iconic Rex Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) by then Secretary of State, John Kerry during President Barack Obama’s visit to Viet Nam, has stepped down behind closed doors. He was reportedly replaced by Đàm Bích Thủy, a prominent Vietnamese businesswoman who is the current FUV president.
It was Bob Kerrey himself who said in an interview last June, as all rhetorical hell was breaking loose, that he would not step down. This about-face came after first saying, in response to questions emailed to him by a New York Times reporter, that he would resign if he felt his role was jeopardizing the U.S.-Vietnamese joint education venture. I’m not a diplomat and therefore have no need to play the quiet game. Bob Kerrey was appointed with much fanfare and some fanfare should accompany his surrender.
Never Say Never
Never say never and never forget this timeless wisdom from Proverbs 16:18: “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” It was Kerrey’s arrogance that made him dig in his heels and delay the inevitable. It was a firestorm of controversy and, most importantly, steely and steadfast official Vietnamese opposition, that forced him to do the right thing. It wasn’t only about Bob Kerrey. Jeopardize FUV he did, at the end of the day, as some predicted.
Kerrey’s long overdue resignation is a cause for celebration and a sense of vindication for many. It is, however, a bitter disappointment for his supporters, both Vietnamese and U.S., who probably still cluelessly wonder why a man who led a U.S. Navy SEALS unit that murdered 21 men, women, and children in the village of Thạnh Phong in February 1969 would not be considered morally fit to assume such a leadership position.
Keep in mind that this is a man who has the dishonor and disgrace of having his very own war crimes exhibit in the War Remnants Museum in HCMC, one of many such incidents in the bloodbath and industrial-scale slaughter that was the American War in Viet Nam.
It was on this day, 71 years ago, at Ba Dinh Square in Hanoi, that Ho Chi Minh declared Viet Nam’s independence from France under the new name of the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam in a speech that invoked the US Declaration of Independence and the French Revolution’s Declaration of the Rights of Man and of its Citizens.
According to a TNS Consumer Pulse study conducted before Tet, consumer confidence in Vietnam it at its highest level since 2008, which bodes well for 2016. The study surveyed consumers in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) and Hanoi, the two largest cities in Vietnam, to discover their feelings about Vietnam’s economy. (Follow this link to read the article on which this post is based.)
As the report points out, consumer confidence has had its ups and downs over the years. In 2008, 89% had a positive view of Vietnam’s economy, believing it would improve over the next 12 months. The consumer confidence index has fluctuated over the years but is now at 90%, a rebound from the 2012-2014 slump and a significant improvement from 2015.
Vietnam, which has been described as one of the few bright spots in Asia, had one of the fastest growing economies in the world last year with a 6.7% growth rate, the best result since 2007. In addition, the inflation rate is projected to be below 5% this year and foreign direct investment (FDI) continues unabated.
This high level of confidence means that consumers will be spending more and saving less in the coming year. In 2008, the savings vs. expenditure rate was 22%/78% while today it’s 10%/90%. This speaks to economic opportunity for more segments of the population and the concomitant ability to pay, including for education in Vietnam and overseas.