Walsall Regional Coordinator for Labour Behind the Labour, Leandra Gebrakedan, has written about her knowledge of the Ethiopian garment industry and given us the permission to republish on such an interesting growing fashion story in Africa’s historical country – Ethiopia.
Being born in Ethiopia and raised in the U.K I feel I am writing this article from the perspective of a citizen of the world. The information I have gathered has been researched and is true to the best of my knowledge. Ethiopia is fairly new to the international garment industry and with export duty currently at zero and tax treaties to avoid double tax payment, along with bilateral treaties for the protection and promotion of investments, it’s potential is being well and truly utilised. However shockingly it doesn’t have a minimum wage set by the government to protect workers, and so I wonder how are workers to be paid a living wage? Even countries in Asia that rely on the garment trade and have a minimum wage, it is often up to six times lower than that of a living wage. Ethiopia’s government I hear is apparently placing special emphasis on the textile industry – by 2016, the country aims to export more than a billion dollars worth of apparel.
At present, the high street stores H&M, Tesco, Primark and Asda produce garments in Ethiopia. Ethiopia’s textile and apparel market exports grew 28% by June 2012, the UK accounting for 10% of this trade, other countries in Europe taking 50% and the US taking 40%. The latest news being 50 Turkish textile and garment companies are hoping to relocate factories to Ethiopia, as in June 2012 Ethiopia signed an agreement with Turkish Investors towards development.
I have been informed by Responsify (Swedish sustainable textile and leather production house in Ethiopia) that working hours are 48 hours per week by law and, although there is no general minimum wage, there is a minimum wage specified for public sector workers at 420 birr. Research has shown that the average earned by a garment worker is 320 birr a month. In contrast to this, Muya is a for-profit textiles and ceramics enterprise that’s certified Fair Trade and pays its workers a living wage (about $100 US a month, which converts 1,900 birr). This shows that paying a living wage is possible for companies who still want to turn a profit.
There is currently a research project in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, examining working conditions for factory workers which is headed by Dr. Chris Blattman (Columbia University) and Dr. Stefan Dercon (Oxford University) and I eagerly await the results.