Vietnamese factory in Russia investigated for ill-treating workers

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Women in a BBC photo show red rashes on their bodies caused by poor work conditions at Vinastar, a Vietnamese textile factory in Moscow.

A Vietnamese-run textile factory in Russia is being investigated after the BBC discovered "slave-like" conditions in which the 75 Vietnamese workers were forced to live in.

The BBC said in a Friday report that the workers at Vinastar, a medium-sized business in the village of Savino southeast of Moscow, were forced to work 18 hours a day, seven days a week.

They showed red rashes on their bodies due to poor hygienic conditions. They were not allowed to use more than five liters of water per 25 people per week for brushing their teeth and for personal hygiene, and thus could not have showers for at least two months.

All 75 of them, including men and women, were locked in four small rooms with no electricity to prevent them from charging mobile phones. Two rooms did not have windows. They were forced to stay indoors all winter and were only let 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.

But the Vietnamese embassy in Moscow, when contacted by BBC, denied any malpractice at the factory, saying officials had visited the factory four times and found nothing abnormal.

"There was no evidence, no signs, no bruises, so we can't draw any conclusions," said Nguyen Hung Anh, First Secretary of the embassy.

But Konstantin Pavlov, a Russian official who organized a surprise raid earlier this year, told a different story.

"What we saw at the factory bore all the hallmarks of a criminal offence. An investigation is now under way."

So far, Russian migration authorities have identified 24 workers as illegal migrants and will deport them to Vietnam over the next few weeks. The Vietnamese embassy in Moscow is offering others free travel home.

Investigations are likely to result in the owners of the factory being charged, at minimum, for organizing the employment of illegal migrants, the BBC report said.

It said the workers came from localities across Vietnam, lured by promises of good income and guaranteed employment.

Some paid Vietnamese intermediaries up to US$2,000 in order to get the job.

Most were unable to raise such amount of money, so they were offered loans by the factory owners. Their salary later turned out to be only $100-220 per month, and it was never paid in full, making repayment of their debt almost impossible.

Nguyen Thi Bich Tuyen, who has worked at the factory for 18 months, told BBC: "I'm barely paid enough to afford two meals a day a bowl of rice and some bread. We are often beaten up. Not so long ago, 20 people were beaten up."

The workers went on strike earlier this year. Factory owners invited diplomats from the Vietnamese embassy to talk to staff but the officials were pro-Vinastar rather than the workers. They simply reminded workers that they had to abide by the contracts.

In a video recording kept by BBC which shows the meeting between the workers, managers and Vietnamese officials, Vinastar CEO Nguyen Quang Tuan told the staff "If you want to look for work elsewhere, you have to get your new employers to pay your debts. If you want to leave for Vietnam, you are more than welcome to do so but you will also have to pay the debts first."

After the strike, the workers said, many of them were beaten up.

Nguyen Van Dung told the BBC he and his colleagues had been taken away, one by one and then beaten up.

"They called me into a separate room. There, they put a rag over my head and starting the beating. They went for my hands and my feet."

The BBC report said Vinastar is "just one of dozens of similar sweatshops run by Vietnamese entrepreneurs in Russia" that employ thousands of Vietnamese workers.

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