From the 13th to the 14th of October 2016, the Vietnam Peace and Development Foundation (VPDF) organized in close cooperation with the Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung Southeast Asia (RLS SEA) an international workshop on “Expanding Social Protection for Vulnerable Groups towards Adressing Inequality under ASEAN Integration”, held in Vung Tau City, Vietnam. It was attended by experts, activists, policy makers and other relevant stakeholders from Vietnam and the Southeast Asia region and from Europe.
Diverse speakers such as Caren Lay, Deputy Chairperson of Left Party of the Federal Parliament of Germany, and Mdme To Nu Thi Ninh, President of VPDF Ho Chi Minh City, and Francine Mestrum from Global Social Justice, Belgium as well as Maris Dela-Cruz from the Network for Transformative Social Protection of the Philippines together with Liliane Danso-Dahmen, Director of RLS SEA expressed their concerns over the current challenges of global social protection and social rights and the increasing gap between the rich and the poor that call for a turn to alternatives. They raised awareness to the ‘empowerment for social protection’, as social protection only works well if the initiatives are taken by all the stakeholders, including the vulnerable.
In this context, the participants discussed the problems of regional integration and the impact of Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) on the poor, the participants of the conference agreed, that it is a complicated process and it sets many challenges for all people from farmers to fishers, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and even on governmental levels. In the latter case, there exist difficulties in the legal framework and the governments have to share their decision-making power with transnational companies (TNCs) more cohesively. A big problem lies in the capacity of ASEAN itself: no bonding framework (consensus principles) makes it hard to protect rights of workers, i.e. people. The Deputy Director of the Institute of Labor Science and Social Affairs of the Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs, presented the approach of the Vietnamese government, which intends to support the people in Vietnam throughout the whole life circle, not just elderly people, as well as the vulnerable also in the context of ASEAN. However, the success of such government policies in ASEAN was challenged at this international workshop by the participants to contribute to meaningful solutions for people in need of social protection such as most vulnerable groups but in general, too.
There was a call on the governments to provide more information to the people. Also, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) need to be more active in approaching and accessing information and resources at national and international level as well as use their capacity more wisely in order to improve connections between different actors.
Caren Lay, Deputy Chairperson of the German Left Party focused in her presentation on the issue of “social human rights as a central goal and means of a social policy”. She talked about challenges regarding the so-called German ‘welfare state’ model. and pointed out some similarities to improve policies in the EU and ASEAN countries to strengthen social protection. Caren Lay stressed the need to strengthen the social union within regional integration processes and she stated, that an event like this international workshop should be seen like an important tool for strengthening networks between ASEAN and the EU of activists for social rights.
In this context, Liliane Danso-Dahmen presented the concept of ”Global Social Rights” like an approach, which could be discussed by a leftist organization like the RLS and others like a tool to promote effectively the social struggle on a national and international level.
The two international speakers from social movements in Europa and Southeast Asia, Francine Mestrum and Maris Dela Cruz, highlighted the concepts of “Social Commons” and the meaning of social protection and the DIGNIDAD movement’s struggles in this context by introducing global agendas for social protection (beyond poverty reduction).
At the end, the workshop participants developed recommendations for decision makers and for their movements to strengthen policies as well as the struggle for social protection and for addressing inequality more effectively, in future.