Vietnam's Rehab Gulag Revealed

By Jed Bickman 09/08/11

A damning Human Rights Watch report shows addicts used as slave labor in Vietnam—and the West is complicit.

Vietnam's exploited addicts Photo via

You don’t want to get stuck in a drug detention center in Vietnam (though we’re not recommending them elsewhere in Southeast Asia either). Yesterday the international NGO Human Rights Watch released a 121-page report called The Rehab Archipelago that details a litany of abuses in 14 rehab centers around Vietnam. Inmates are used as forced labor, performing hazardous work without pay. Although they enter the centers voluntarily for drug treatment, they're forbidden from leaving and are compelled to work in agricultural production, garment making or construction. Some of the products made in these abusive settings make their way into the supply chains of companies that sell goods to the US and Europe. The report called the drug treatment “ineffective and abusive,” and accused international HIV and AIDS nonprofit organizations—including the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)—of facilitating the abuse. Under Vietnamese law, individuals in detention have a right to be released if they are not being provided with appropriate medical care—by providing that care, it's claimed, organizations like PEPFAR deprive exploited inmates of that avenue to freedom. Human Rights Watch said that forced labor is not incidental to a core program of drug treatment in the centers; rather, it is central to how the institutions operate. One inmate who was interviewed said: “If you refused to work, they slapped you. If you refused to work then they sent you to the punishment room. Everyone worked.”

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Jed Bickman is a journalist and copywriter living in the greater New York City area. He is the associate editor at The New Press. You can find him on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.