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Providing information about basic labor rights under domestic laws to marginalized citizens is a challenge in Viet Nam. Normal channels for disseminating legal information involves government officials explaining to people what their rights and duties are under the law in generic terms, without necessarily understanding what the needs of the community are about legal information and access to justice. These exchanges often occur in large group settings, without an opportunity for questions to be asked on sensitive subjects.
To create an enabling environment to conduct a proper legal rights and information needs assessment, UNDP partnered with a law school to have students spend an entire weekend living with residents of a village adjacent to an industrial park. The students were able to have casual and informal discussions with their hosts without the presence of government officials. Before and after the weekend visits, the students were trained on how to observe and listen to the residents to identify the types of legal problems they face every day, even if they are expressed in non-legal terms. Following the weekend stays and workshops, the students returned to the village to explain what domestic laws are available, including maternity leave, overtime pay and workplace safety, to protect them in case they are abused by their employer.
UNDP worked with faculty and students of Foreign Trade University School of Law. Professors from other disciplines, including sociology and anthropology, helped with preparing the students for their weekend stays. Members of the legal community with practical experience also participated in preparing the students. Six families of residents the village volunteered to host the students, and shared the information they learned with their neighbors. The UNDP communications team worked with local and national media to spur interest in the project, and many tv shows were produced and aired.
The program was designed to benefit two core interest groups; first, law students – many of whom will be future leaders in the public and private sector – who need to learn practical skills and obtain a sense of providing community service, and second, members of a group vulnerable to exploitation by large, foreign and domestic employers. Students described how living alongside industrial laborers in their own homes enabled them to see how the lives of their poorest citizens, and they described how they started to see how the law has real-life consequences. The residents interviewed by UNDP explained that they had not been aware of many of their labor rights, and had never even heard of overtime pay. They also described how they are unable to negotiate with employers about their employment contract because they don’t understand the legal terms involved. As a result of this program, several of the residents said they have a far better understanding of their labor rights, and will share them with neighbors. A total of 12 students participated, staying with 6 different families under this project. There are no national statistics or published reports on this project given its short length and limited targeted audience, but the information about the types of questions that were asked will be used to inform future legal rights awareness campaigns in Viet Nam as they are conducted in different communities.
Don’t be skeptical! The short time frame and limited resources of the UNDP innovation facility forces you to think creatively about the problem you want to address.
Don’t be afraid to fail if you think you can learn something important about the process of taking new approaches to solve problems.
Don’t over-think! The best solutions are often the easiest.
Remember: innovation is often country specific. Borrowing ideas from successful projects is a great start, but knowing the environment in which the project will be piloted or launched is vital.
Scott Ciment: email@example.com