COOP Champions

Jonathan Ngoc Nguyen, Programme Officer at ILO Country Office in Ha Noi

COOP Champions features ILO colleagues from around the world working on the cooperative, social and solidarity economy. It highlights their contributions, and shares highlights of their experiences, current work, and future aspirations.

Article | 20 March 2024

Could you tell us about yourself? How did you get started with at the ILO?

I hold a master’s in public administration from the Harvard Kennedy School. I worked for the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta for more than 11 years, with the most recent work on monitoring and analysis before I joined the ILO in 2020. I always wanted to contribute to advancing social justice. I think working for the ILO is an excellent way to do that. Among the UN agencies in Viet Nam, the ILO is one of the most respected specialized agencies, leading the work on advancing decent work in the country.

Viet Nam aspires to become an upper middle-income country with modern industries by 2030, and an industrialized high-income country by 2045. Job creation, rights at work, social protection, and social dialogue, with gender equality as a crosscutting objective are important to achieving these goals. The task ahead is huge where most workers are informal (64.9 per cent in 2023). Social protection coverage is still low with only 39.3 per cent labour force covered (2023). In addition, there is still room for improvement like equal labour market opportunities and gender pay gaps. The ILO can support Viet Nam on its path to advancing decent work. I therefore find it meaningful to be a part of the ILO Team.

Could you share some highlights of your work on cooperatives and the wider social and solidarity economy at the ILO Office for Viet Nam?

The ILO remains the only specialized agency of the United Nations with an explicit mandate covering all cooperatives and the social and solidarity economy. Not only is the ILO only specialized agency with a specific standard on the promotion of cooperatives (2002), but also a recent International Labour Conference resolution on decent work and the social and solidarity economy (2022). Building on that firm foundation, with technical backstopping from the COOP/SSE Unit in the Enterprises Department in Geneva, the ILO Country Office for Viet Nam has been supporting the Government of Viet Nam and social partners in developing and improving policies and legislation and in enhancing national policy cohesion on cooperatives and the wider social and solidarity economy.

The ILO has recently supported the Vietnamese government, Vietnam Cooperative Alliance (VCA) and social partners across the stages of amendment to the Law on Cooperatives as aligned with ILO Recommendation 193. The Viet Nam National Assembly adopted Law on Cooperatives at its 5th Session on 20 June 2023 that will go into effect on July 1st, 2024. The Law provides for an improved framework and an enabling environment which, in coordination with other legal frameworks and policies, contributing to expanding social insurance coverage for workers of cooperatives. It introduces revisions and amendments on regulations on registration, organization, and reorganization of cooperatives. It aims to simplify requirements for administrative procedures for the establishment and operations of cooperatives, including through digitalization. All these contribute to further promoting formalization and expanding social protection in the cooperative sector.

With technical backstopping from the COOP/SSE Unit, ILO CO Ha Noi has supported partners by providing technical inputs on annual national cooperatives fora, promoting the ILC Resolution concerning decent work and the social and solidarity economy and generating a comprehensive overview of the social and solidarity economy landscape in the country. Two teams from Viet Nam, namely, the VCA and the Centre for Social Initiatives Promotion (CSIP) participated in the Project Strengthening the Social and Solidarity Economy in Asia – Phase 2. They are working on finalizing a mapping report on the SSE in Viet Nam. The report will be presented at a regional conference in Bangkok in May 2024. Findings and recommendation from the study will be a reference for decision making regarding cooperatives and the wider SSE in Viet Nam.

How do you see the current state and future of the cooperative, social and solidarity economy in Vietnam?

Attention to the advancement of cooperatives and wider social and solidarity economy are gaining traction, from the public sector, stemming from the needs of the people, being able to protect interests and create conditions for members to produce and do business effectively and develop sustainably. Cooperatives and the wider social and solidarity economy, play a central role in Viet Nam’s national economy. At the end of 2023 a total of 31,364 cooperatives had 7.1 million household members, creating jobs for 2.6 million workers, and contributing about 4.8 per cent to GDP. Cooperatives will continue be indispensable to development and growth of Viet Nam in the future considering the recent legislation promoting the further development of cooperatives.

Recognition of the contribution of cooperatives in Viet Nam was further enhanced with the adoption of a Resolution on decent work and the social and solidarity economy. This was the first time that a universal definition of the term ‘social and solidarity economy was introduced, agreed upon by the tripartite constituents. Viet Nam has also participated actively in ILO’s Strengthening the SSE Project – Phase 2 which maps out the SSE terrain, its contribution to the decent work and sustainable development in Viet Nam.

While the new legislation will present opportunities for their development, cooperatives in Viet Nam continue to face unique challenges, some of which they share with micro, small and medium-sized enterprises. There is a limited understanding of the cooperatives and their potential contributions to society due to limited availability of good and reliable statistics on cooperatives. The low quality of the data, and the over reliance on qualitative evidence due to lack of quantitative data hamper systematic analysis of the cooperatives in research, policy and practice.

At the macro level supportive policies and legislation and enhanced national policy cohesion on cooperatives would help ensure a level playing field so that cooperatives are treated in terms no less favourable than other businesses. At the meso-level building institutional capacities of VCA offices at the provincial level, including their administrative capacities, would be important to integrate into national strategies and programmes. At the micro level, facilitating access of cooperatives to adequate financing and the latest developments in the most appropriate technology would be important to unleash their potential to deliver their economic, social and environmental objectives.