Vietnam probes slave labor in Russia

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  Workers allegedly forced into labor slavery in Russia lodge complaints with the Crime Police Division of the Ministry of Public Security

The Ministry of Public Security is investigating a case in which more than 100 Vietnamese workers are believed to have been forced into "slavery" at a garment factory in Russia.

The ministry's Crime Police Division said the workers were recruited by Vinastar, a medium-sized business in the village of Savino, southeast of Moscow, to work for two companies - Vinastar and Garizon Open.

All the workers have returned to Vietnam. Many of them lodged complaints with the ministry's Crime Police Division immediately after they arrived at Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi.

They told police that they had been lured to work in Russia by labor brokers who told them they would receive wages of US$500-700 per month.

After arriving in Russia, they had their passports taken from them. They were kept in a closed factory and forced to work 12-18 hours per day without being given the promised pay. The working conditions were poor and unhygienic, and they were not given sufficient food.

Nguyen Duy Than Nhan, a 32-year-old worker from Ho Chi Minh City, told news website Dan Tri that she had paid an intermediary $600 and was promised a monthly salary of $700 with a two-year garment contract.

"But the reality was a miserable life beyond imagination. I worked day and night, was given food meals and was not allowed to step out of the factory," she said.

"It was like living in jail."

The case came into light in early August after Russian police conducted a surprise raid on the factory premises and rescued the workers.

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The raid followed a BBC exposure which cited the workers as saying they were forced to work 18 hours a day, seven days a week. They all showed red rashes on their bodies because of unclean working and living conditions. They were locked in rooms with no electricity or windows, forced to stay indoors all winter and were only let to walk around in the backyard of the premises in the summer to air their clothes. They said they were poorly fed and beaten up regularly.

After the rescue, the workers were sent home with the help of Russian authorities and the Vietnamese Embassy in Moscow.

Most of the workers had no money left, and several government agencies in the area helped them pay bus fares home from the airport. Some of them returned home to Hanoi, some to nearby Nam Dinh and Thai Binh provinces. There were also a few who were from Da Nang City in the central region and HCMC.

All of them had paid private intermediaries, many of whom were not licensed to provide labor export services, to get the jobs. Some workers said they had suffered the abuse for over a year, while some others had only worked for several weeks.

According to initial investigations by Vietnamese police, many workers were lured to Russia by three Vietnamese brokers, who showed them signed contracts of Vinastar and asked them to pay a deposit of VND10-15 million ($480-720) each to get the job.

Police have identified the three brokers, according to a VnExpress news website report. They have also found that 45 of the workers were sent to Russia by the Hanoi Investment and Construction Joint Stock Company No. 1 (HICC1) and a company based in the northern province of Thai Binh.

The Department of Overseas Labor Management said those who have violated regulations on sending workers abroad will be strictly punished. Companies engaged in insufficient violations would have their operations suspended, it said.

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