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.

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