Decent Work and Inclusive Industrialization in Ethiopia

Project summary

Sub-Saharan African (SSA) governments are looking for sectors that can drive inclusive growth in the context of large youth populations, high under- and unemployment, and previous growth trajectories that did not create enough jobs or catalyze economic transformation. At the same time, global apparel buyers are looking to SSA as the last ‘cheap labor’ frontier for labor intensive apparel production given that Asia’s dominance is set to decline. The shift of apparel production to SSA could be a win-win situation for global buyers and African governments, firms and workers. Yet, the broader development opportunities available in the first wave of apparel production outsourcing have declined due to changes in the global economy, which have culminated in a ‘supplier squeeze’. Evidence from other regions with apparel export industries shows that export firms face high competitive pressures and that jobs are characterized by very low wages and problematic working conditions. EthApparel will examine what can be learned from Ethiopia’s experience that could lead to better working conditions and wages due to ongoing changes in the apparel global value chain and to Ethiopian specificities. Ethiopia is the newest global apparel sourcing location and the fastest growing one in SSA, and thus its experience has broader relevance for understanding the possibilities and limitations of apparel-based industrialization in the twenty-first century. The overall objective is to analyze the drivers of, potential for and obstacles to inclusive growth and decent work in the Ethiopian apparel export sector. The project will be the first to examine concomitantly the three scales of global buyers, supplier firms, and workers, as well as the agency of these actors in driving inclusive development outcomes in the context of Ethiopia’s political economy.


First Year Report

The fourth PhD was hired: Blen Telayneh Melesse; she is a lecturer in anthropology. Due to covid travel restrictions, we held a virtual inception workshop for the whole team on 12 June 2020. All contracts were signed. We proceeded with the PhD course teaching via zoom as webinars. The Apparel GVC webinar was held August 31-September 4th. The Labor and Apparel GVCs webinar was held Sept 21-25. The Industrial Relations webinar was scheduled for Nov 2-6; we started but had to stop on Nov 4 due to no internet in Mekele. We resumed the webinar May 19-21 2021. The Labor Ethnography webinar was scheduled for Dec 2020, but had to be canceled. I attended the Copenhagen Fashion Summit virtual conference in Oct 2020. We held a webinar to discuss the phd plans for the PhD candidates on 21 Oct 2020. We have two courses remaining: labor ethnography and industrialization, which will be held in September. We have designed the supplier squeeze survey and received comments from academic experts in the field. The major delay is in piloting and carrying out the survey. We hope to do it in September, along with the final phd courses. We are also delayed with the worker survey team training and survey design. We have begun work on the survey, learning lessons from the ILO survey in Hawassa park. The remaining challenge is whether to relocate the PhD candidates to Addis Ababa, in affiliation with the university there, and thus recruit master students in Addis for the worker survey training.

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