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Responsible business in Viet Nam’s SMEs: what way ahead?

13.00 – 14.30 (Bangkok time, GMT+7), 4 June 2021

Click HERE to access the recordings of the RBHR Forum on YouTube


Viet Nam is experiencing an influx of international manufacturers. And while in the past it was mostly garment and shoe producers moving to Viet Nam, these days the trend covers many sectors, including high-tech production such as smartphones, computer chips and machinery. To qualify for preferential trade terms, for example those under the recently signed free trade agreement with the EU, rules of origin require more content to be made in Vietnam, leading to a scramble of foreign firms for local suppliers – many of which are SMEs. 

Foreign buyers not only require their suppliers to meet strict quality standards and reliable delivery, but also adherence to sustainability standards which used to be previously mostly relevant in the garment sector. This might explain a sudden spike in interest in the Vietnamese business community in CSR and responsible business practices – and a lot of questions by entrepreneurs how to meet those requirements. 

Many SMEs are challenged by compliance approaches associated with larger firms, abstract human rights terminology and sustainability jargon. And while Viet Nam’s new labour code came into force this year, its provisions cover less than a third of the 55 Million workforce as the informal economy is large and even in the formal domestic private sector, 30% of workers are employed informally.

Given these circumstances, how can Viet Nam’s business community, Government, buyers and stakeholders advance the responsible business agenda for SMEs in Viet Nam?

Session Description

This session will review the surge in interest for CSR and responsible business in Vietnamese suppliers beyond the garment industry, discuss specific challenges for SMEs in Viet Nam to meet sustainability standards and buyer requirements and formulate recommendations to advance the responsible business agenda in an SMEs inclusive manner.

Session Objectives

The key objectives of this session are to:


  • Discuss the policy and practical challenges faced by SMEs expected to meet sustainability standards;

  • Propose practical steps forward for the responsible business agenda for SMEs in Vietnam.


Panelists and participants will reflect on the following questions:

  • How do current CSR and responsible business approaches in particular challenge SMEs?

  • Can we treat SMEs just like any other companies (“Little big companies”) or how does a SME-specific responsible business approach look like? How useful is it to take the CSR approach for larger firms and rightsize it to SMEs? Is it enough to just reduce the compliance checklists for SMEs and focus on how we can explain them better to SMEs? Do we need to or how can we “protect” SMEs from MNE bureaucratic compliance pressure and CSR checklist approaches?

  • While they have often more compliance issues, SMEs are at the same time often good “corporate citizens” in a sense that they are more rooted in the community, are more likely to employ locally etc. How can we take this and other issues into account in a CSR approach to/for SMEs? 

  • How can Viet Nam’s business community, Government, buyers and stakeholders advance the responsible business agenda for SMEs in Viet Nam?

For questions, please contact unrbhrforum@undp.org