Neo-Imperialism and the Precarious Existence of Vietnamese Factory Workers During the Covid-19 Lockdowns in 2021

Scott G. McNall, Ly Quoc Dang

Abstract


Based on interviews with Vietnamese factory workers we discuss the impact Covid lockdowns had on their lives and illuminate how fragile their economic circumstances are in general. Both the government and major international corporations, such as Samsung and Nike, took extraordinary steps to keep workers on factory floors when covid infections started spreading in 2020. The government and businesses pressed laborers to work, sleep, and eat in their factories to stop the spread of the virus and to keep production lines moving. There was a determined push to get people vaccinated. It wasn’t just the Vietnamese government that tried to get jabs in arms; ninety U.S. corporate executives urged the U.S. government to speed vaccine delivery to the country. Japanese, South Korean, and other Southeast Asian companies located in Vietnam also joined in these efforts. The purported reason was that supply chains had been disrupted by covid and exporters feared they would not have products on the shelves for the coming holiday season. We argue that focusing on supply chain disruptions obscures the fact that what is being transferred between developing countries and those in the core is not just television sets and tennis shoes but human labor power. It is a form of economic imperialism in which countries no longer conquer another nation to extract wealth but operate through international corporations unfettered by ties to any specific country. The Vietnamese government offers international corporations significant tax breaks and other benefits to set up shop in industrial zones. Their profit margins are high and come at the expense of workers, who must work overtime and enlist other family members in their labor force to survive. We conclude by identifying actions the Vietnamese government could take to alleviate the plight of factory workers.


Keywords


Vietnam; neo-imperialism; commodity and value chains; precarious labor; Covid lockdowns

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.32855/fcapital.202201.006

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