Learning in Vietnam

ILR students studying labor relations in Asia
Wednesday, January 6, 2016

This month, ILR’s Vietnam Engaged Learning Program offers a close-up view on regional labor relations and the international impact of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, known as “TPP.”

“TPP is a huge game changer for Vietnam,” said Honore Johnson ’16, referring to the free trade agreement among 12 nations and includes the United States.

The proposed trade pact, to be voted on by Congress, intends to create free trade ties among the United States, Vietnam, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru and Singapore.

Due to the treaty’s specifications about freedom of association and conflict resolution mechanisms, “a new labor chapter could open up” said Johnson.

According to Lowell Jackson ’17, the Vietnam program’s teaching assistant, Vietnam is in a region becoming increasingly important to the United States and TPP is an especially recent example of this growing significance.

Vietnam is a major exporter of clothes, sport equipment and sneakers to the United States. For example, the Gap, Nike and Puma are retail brands with outsourced manufacturing to factories in Vietnam, but maintain local offices to monitor working conditions and production.

An outgrowth of the Scheinman Institute’s Asian Labor Arbitration Project and part of ILR’s Engaged Learning Program, the ILR student trip is Jan. 3-17.  

In addition to Jackson and Johnson, other students in Vietnam are Christopher Alter ’16, Kathleen Huffman ’16, Andy Kim ’16 and John Roberts ’16. Donna Ramil, ILR’s associate director of International Programs, is also in Vietnam with the group.

The ILR School is invited to Ton Duc Thang University, in Ho Chi Minh City, by Dean Hoa Dinh Nguyen Ph.D, who heads the Faculty of Labor Relations and Trade Unions. ILR students are paired with bilingual peer mentors at TDTU to learn about collective bargaining, codes of social responsibility, labor law and alternative dispute resolution in Vietnam. They meet experts in various areas of Vietnamese labor relations and visit a factory.

The labor school has more than 420 undergraduate students and prepares graduates for careers in union leadership, human resource management and government service. The university has 18,000 students in a large, tree-lined campus setting with dorms and a soccer stadium.

Trip experiences will be recorded in a blog. A six-week, one-credit course on Vietnamese language and culture, taught by Thuy TranViet, Department of Asian Studies, helped prepare students for the experience.

This trip, along with a similar one a year ago, is funded by the Scheinman Institute and Richard D. Fincher ’73, the Asian Labor Arbitration Project’s founder. ILR and Einaudi Center Travel Grants also support the opportunity.

Fincher has taught arbitration and mediation studies to Cornell students and to professionals through the Scheinman Institute on Conflict Resolution.

As a Fulbright Scholar in Law and Dispute Resolution in the spring of 2015, he lived in residence and taught students in the School of Labor Relations at Ton Duc Thang University. While on his Fulbright, Fincher hosted a project-sponsored conference on labor relations at the university.

From 2010 to 2014, Fincher served as a dispute resolution consultant for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and conducted field research in Vietnam on mediation, labor arbitration and resolution of wildcat labor strikes.

Fincher said he hopes the Engaged Learning Program helps explain to students interested in corporate social responsibility the relationship between workplace relations in Asia, and ethical consumer habits and values around retail products manufactured in Asia.

After returning to campus, the Vietnam Engaged Learning students are expected to complete independent research projects based on their in-country work. Professor Lisa Nishii and Fincher will oversee the projects.

More information about the program can be found on its web page.