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Ensuring the right to an adequate standard of living in Vietnam

(LLCT)As a member state of CESCR, Vietnam commits to respect and ensure all rights recognized in the document, including the right to an adequate standard of living. According to the 1991 and 2011 Political Platforms, and other Party documents written during the Renovation period, economic reform has been identified as the focus. Hunger eradication and poverty reduction should be promoted within the guidelines of combining economic growth with social progress and equity throughout the development process.

1. Theoretical and legal background to the right to an adequate standard of living

First, the right to an adequate standard of living and the relationship between the rights of natural entities and social entities.

A human is both a natural and a social being. Biological and social aspects coexist in an integrated unity, regulating each other and creating a practical foundation for each human’s existence. The biological aspect describes the natural basis essential for the existence of a human; the social aspect distinguishes a human from an animal and defines human dignity. “Biological” needs must be “humanized” to bear the civilized values of human beings. In turn, social needs cannot escape the premise of biological needs. The biological aspect and social aspect interact within each human being. The two aspects combine to form a sociobiological human. Therefore, Karl Marx was reasonable to assume that “the essence of man is no abstraction inherent in each separate individual. In reality, it is an ensemble of social relations”(1).

Biological needs (food, clothing, shelter, exercise, etc.) as well as social needs (labour, scientific study, etc.) are integrated within a human’s life. Corresponding with biological and social needs are biological and social rights. Among them, biological needs and rights are natural premises indispensable for human existence. Social needs and rights distinguish humans from animals and affirm human dignity. Karl Marx stated: “men must be in a position to live in order to be able “to make history”. But before everything else, life requires eating and drinking, a habitation, clothing, and many other things”(2). The right to an adequate standard of living covers these needs.

Second, the right to an adequate standard of living covers essentials like food, clothing, housing, and the necessary conditions for health protection. These are essential for developing social human rights, including economic, social, cultural, civil, and political rights.

An individual’s right to an adequate standard of living is stipulated in Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Article 11 of International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), and Article 27 of Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). The descriptions in these documents cover the basic contents of socio-economic rights. Minimally these include: the right to property (Article 17, UHDR); the right to work (Article 23, UHDR; Article 6, CESCR); the right to family protection (Article 10, CESCR; Article 27, CRC); and the right to a healthy standard of living, including food, clothing, housing, medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or circumstances beyond control (Article 22 and 25, UHDR, Article 9, CESCR, Article 26, CRC)(3).

Economic rights - particularly the right to an adequate standard of living - are best demonstrated in the right to property, as this right ensures a sufficient living standard and promotes independence and the freedom to enjoy other rights. In reality, however, not everyone enjoys equal ownership rights, and the right to property must be supplemented with other rights. These include the right to work and secure income; and the right to social security in the event of unemployment, sickness, old age, accident, or disaster (Articles 22 and 25, UHDR). The right to work also create a basis for independence in that workers are free to choose their work. Their interests are safeguarded by joining union organizations (Article 8, CESCR and some ILO conventions).

Third, responsibilities of the State in ensuring the right to an adequate standard living.

During the drafting of the CCPR and the CESCR, there were efforts to clarify the State’s responsibilities in implementing different measures to protect the right to an adequate standard of living. According to Article 2 of CESCR, member states should undertake steps to maximize its available resources with a goal of “progressively achieving a full realization of rights” by all appropriate means. The term “progressively achieving a full realization” describes the responsibility of nations to realize these rights. This is necessary, as achieving an adequate standard of living including economic, social and cultural rights, are dependent on physical and spiritual means for their implementation.

It is misunderstood that this right must be ensured by the States. Therefore, there are high expectations, demands, and dependence put onto the State, making it increasingly bulky and costly. To counteract this, individuals must be the primary subjects proactively realizing this right.

The responsibilities of the States must be looked at from different angles.

Regarding institutions, the States must respect and protect all private-owned resources and each individual’s right to freely seek employment and use necessary resources to meet the demands of their own life, their family, and their community. The States must undertake measures to recognize and register individual ownership rights, especially land ownership, and to support individuals and communities’ safe use of resources. States must implement anti-discrimination measures, especially concerning women, elderly people, persons with disabilities, migrant workers, and foreigners.

Regarding management measures, States are responsible for safeguarding the use of resources to combat violations, deception, and unethical acts taking advantage of market mechanisms. States are especially responsible for dealing with issues including vulnerable or disadvantaged groups whose interests require special protection. In cases involving migrant workers, immigrants, or asylum seekers, the States must decide who should take responsibility - the nation of origin or the resource country - if a person has lost contact with their original country.

In addition to offering protection, the State should support and promote the right to an adequate living standard. According to article 11 of CESCR, the State should take all necessary measures to “improve methods of production, conservation and distribution of food by making full use of technical and scientific knowledge...,and to ensure the equitable distribution of world food supplies in relation to need”.

The State’s efforts should include regulations on food and other resources, especially during widespread unemployment during economic recessions, and regarding vulnerable groups (elderly people, persons with disabilities), and those affected by economic restructure. These responsibilities would also include balancing the national defence budget with socio-economic development.

2. Ensuring the right to an adequate standard of living in Vietnam

As a member state of CESCR, Vietnam commits to respect and ensure all rights recognized in the document, including the right to an adequate standard of living. According to the 1991 and 2011 Political Platforms, and other Party documents written during the Renovation period, economic reform has been identified as the focus. Hunger eradication and poverty reduction should be promoted within the guidelines of combining economic growth with social progress and equity throughout the development process.

The 12th National Party Congress (January 2016) instructs, create opportunities for all people to find employment and income, and ensure equal salaries sufficient to provide for living conditions and the reproduction of labour power. Pay attention to creating jobs for redundant labourers in the agricultural sector due to land accumulation, concentration or requisition for industrial and urban development and public works. Encourage social investment to create more jobs and enhance the quality of vocational training(4).

The 12th National Party Congress directs, continue to perfect social welfare policies in line with the socio-economic development process. Expand subjects and enhance the efficiency of the social security system to all people; facilitate effective assistance for disadvantaged, vulnerable, or misfortunate people(5). The motto is: “Turn humanitarian assistance into a guarantee of a citizen’s right to social welfare”(6).

- Article 16 of the 2013 Constitution stipulates, “All people are equal before law. No one is subject to discriminatory treatment in their political, civil, economic, cultural or social life”.

- Article 32: Everyone has the right of ownership over his or her lawful income, savings, housing, chattel, means of production, and capital contributions to enterprises or other economic entities. The right to private ownership and the right to inheritance are protected by the law. In cases of extreme necessity-national defense, security reasons, in national interest, in a state of emergency, or in response to a natural disaster, the State may compulsorily purchase or requisition property from organizations or individuals and pay them compensation at market price.

- Article 33: Everyone has the right to freedom of enterprise within legal sectors and trades.

- Article 34: Citizens are guaranteed the right to social security.

- Article 35: Citizens have the right to work and to choose their occupation, employment, and workplace. Employees are guaranteed equal and safe working conditions and have the right to wages and rest periods. Discrimination, forced labour or the employment of people below the minimum working age are prohibited.

- Article 38: Everyone has the right to health protection and care, and the right to equality in the use of medical services. Each citizen is also obliged to comply with regulations on the prevention of disease, including medical examinations and treatment. Acts threatening the life or health of the community are prohibited.

The 2013 Constitution also establishes the State’s responsibility in ensuring the right to an adequate living standard. Specifically, Article 57 stipulates that the State shall encourage and create conditions for organizations and individuals to create jobs for working people. The State shall protect the rights and legitimate interests of employees and employers and create conditions for the establishment of progressive, harmonious and stable employment relations. According to Article 59, the State and society shall honour, commend, reward, and implement preferential treatment policies to people who have rendered meritorious service to the country. The State shall create equal opportunities for citizens to enjoy social welfare, develop the social security system, and adopt policies to support elderly people, people with disabilities, poor people, and other disadvantaged people. The State shall adopt housing development policies and create conditions allowing everyone to have his or her own home.

The constitutional right of acquiring an adequate living standard in Vietnam are specifically institutionalized in economic and social laws and policies, such as the Labour Code, the Law on Enterprises, health insurance, social insurance, sustainable poverty reduction, and social assistance.

Thanks to the efforts of the entire political system and of the people, Vietnam has gradually increased its per capita income. During 2006-2010, Vietnam’s poverty line was less than 200,000 VND/person/month in rural areas and VND 260,000/person/month in urban areas. During 2011-2015, the poverty line increased to VND 400,000/person/month in rural areas and VND 500,000/person/month in urban areas. The poverty rate dropped from 50% (1990) to 13% (2015). Vietnam reached its poverty reduction goal two years ahead of the international commitment and was among the six earliest countries to implement the Millennium Development Goal on poverty reduction. Real per capita income in 2015 was 3.7 times higher than in 2000.

In reality, the right to freedom of enterprise has made significantly positive contributions to the construction of the socialist-oriented market economy. Everyone has the right to freedom of enterprise within legal sectors and trades. The State encourages and creates conditions for businesspeople, enterprises or other individuals or organizations to carry out investment, production, and business; and develop economic branches in a sustainable manner in order to contribute to national construction. The legal property of individuals and organizations engaged in investment, production, or business is protected by law and is not subjected to nationalization.

Each year the National Employment Fund creates jobs for about 160,000 workers, focusing on helping vulnerable groups (workers with disabilities, ethnic minorities, and workers in areas where land use is in transition) to access loans for business development. The country’s average unemployment rate reduced from 2.9% in 2009 to about 1.99% in 2014. In 2015 alone, about 1.5 million jobs were created, including nearly 80,000 for labourers working abroad under labour contracts.

It can be generalized that the right to an adequate standard of living has been guaranteed in terms of: 1) the right to escape from poverty, to ensure livelihood and improve living standard by legal enrichment; 2) the right to access production resources and infrastructure development, particularly in especially difficult communes and ethnic minority regions; 3) the right to access employment opportunities; 4) the right to access healthcare services; 5) the right to access different forms of social security (insurance, assistance, services); 6) the right to legal aid; and 7) the right to participate in economic, social, cultural, civil and political life.

Despite these great achievements, we must admit that:

- The coverage of several socio-economic policies remains low, particularly social insurance and social assistance policies.

- The promulgation of a large number of policies and programs has caused overlapping, especially the overlapping of beneficiaries, selection methods for beneficiaries, and support for localities. This includes overlapping health insurance criteria for the same subjects (relatives of police officers, the poor, the elderly, ethnic minorities, those who have served the country). Each policy is implemented by a separate agency or branch issuing it, which leads to different directions and implementation methods across localities. There is also confusion in applying the contents of a program or policy to another one. 

- Taking a “vertical” approach is no longer compatible with a rights-based approach in building and implementing state guidelines and policies. Consequently, people in many places have not discussed or fully participated in dealing with their own issues. In some places, complicated problems have arisen during the deployment and implementation of policies such as incorrect and widespread selection of poor households. Sometimes poor households become dependent on government assistance. Instead of striving to better themselves they try to “maintain” their poverty standard so they can continue to receive state support. This has caused loss and embezzlement in some places.

Therefore, it is necessary now to renew the thinking and methods for ensuring the right to an adequate standard of living.

First, renew the awareness surrounding the sustainable reduction of poverty and the enhancement of the living standard.

Renew the awareness of hunger eradication and poverty reduction, which must be considered a particular mode of sustainable development process for disadvantaged groups. This will help to enhance the living standard and ensure sustainable development for the entire society.

Renew and implement poverty standards towards enhancing the living standard. This does not only mean sufficient food but also access to social services. A multi-dimensional poverty standard would include elements in addition to income, including access to health care services, education, housing, and access to information.

Second, review socio-economic development policies and programmes in order to realize the right to an adequate standard of living suitable to different areas and regions.

For each socio-economic development program, specifically the “sustainable poverty reduction” and “new-type countryside” programs, it is necessary to specifically institutionalize guidelines, policies, mechanisms, and resources to develop key economic regions or economic motive regions in the North, Central, Southeast and Southwest. In other words, determine and instate guidelines, policies, mechanisms, and resources specific to each region capable of connecting inter-regionally. At the same time, identify the responsibilities of provinces and cities to carry out inter-regional coordination.

For the poor, it is necessary to provide both the “fish” and the “fishing rod.” There must be support for creating jobs and developing a household economy, including family farming economy so that the poor can proactively strive to escape poverty.

Improve credit sources and preferential loans; expand and enhance the quality of vocational training; develop the job market’s information system; and implement the “Vocational training for rural workers until 2020” project according to the Prime Minister’s Decision 1956/QD-TTg dated on November 27, 2009 (also known as “Project 1956”).

Continue to promote the implementation of social security policies in order to enhance the material and spiritual life of the people. This should especially be done in difficult areas and include a) policies supporting job creation and social assistance to create stable income; b) policies supporting access to social insurance, unemployment insurance, and healthcare insurance; and c) social assistance policies covering risks such as temporary unemployment or permanent loss of income and access to social services.

Based on Resolution 24/2008/NQ-CP (October 28, 2008) and Decision 800/2010/QD-TTg (April 16, 2010) addressing national target programs for “new-type countryside” in 2010–2020, our Party and State will strive to implement 19 criteria for the building of new-type countryside by 2020. By the year 2020, 50% of communes will have met the requirements of new-style rural areas.


(1), (2) K. Marx, F. Engels: Complete works,vol.3, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 1995, p.11, p.39

(3) Human Rights Centre:  Universal Declaration and the two 1966 covenants on human rights, pp. 243-293.

(4), (5), (6) CPV: Documents of the 12th Party National Congress, Office of the Party Central Committee, Hanoi, 2016, pp.136-137.

Assoc. Prof., Dr. Nguyen Thanh Tuan

Institute of Human Rights Research

Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics


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