Garment workers in Ethiopia earn on average $26 per month as the country currently has no legally mandated minimum wage for the private sector © Giorgio Cosulich/Getty Images
Garment workers in Ethiopia earn on average $26 per month as the country currently has no legally mandated minimum wage for the private sector © Giorgio Cosulich/Getty Images

Ethiopian garment workers lowest paid in industry

9 May 2019

The Ethiopian government has “promoted wage levels that are inadequate to sustain workers” in an attempt to make Ethiopia the leading manufacturing hub in Africa, a report has claimed.

The report, published by New York University’s Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, investigated the growing garment industry in Ethiopia, specifically at Hawassa Industrial Park.

The park, located 140 miles south of the capital, Addis Ababa, is one of five industrial parks opened in Ethiopia since 2014.

The Ethiopian government has pledged to open a total of 30 parks by 2025 and predicts that eventually, clothing exports from all of the industrial parks will total $30bn a year

Hawassa currently has 25,000 employees and is due to grow to 60,000. The park contains factories manufacturing for brands including H&M, Guess and PVH.

The report found that Ethiopian workers receive the lowest pay within the global garment industry, with employees earning on average $26 per month. The country currently has no legally mandated minimum wage for the private sector.

The report said eagerness to please foreign fashion companies led Ethiopian government officials to promote “wage levels that are clearly inadequate to sustain workers”.

It continued: “For all of its potential, the apparel industry in Ethiopia has already encountered difficulties. The government’s eagerness to attract foreign investment led it to promote the lowest base wage in any garment-producing country – now set at the equivalent of $26 a month.

“The main error the government made was to assure Asian suppliers and western buyers that Ethiopian sewing-machine operators would contentedly accept extremely low base pay,” it said.

The report found productivity in factories in Hawassa is generally low, due to employees' poor working and living conditions and unsatisfactory pay, with workers struggling to get by and often living four to a room without indoor plumbing.

“Rather than the compliant, cheap workforce they may have assumed they would hire in Ethiopia, the foreign-based suppliers have encountered employees who are unhappy with their compensation and living conditions and increasingly willing to protest by stopping work or even quitting,” it said.

The report outlined recommendations to improve Ethiopia’s garment industry and called on the government to establish a minimum wage to ensure decent living conditions for workers, as well as developing a long-term plan for the industry to build a domestic supply chain in the region.

Meanwhile fashion giant, PVH, which owns brands such as Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein, has said it will investigate claims of labour abuses at its Ethiopian supplier factories at Hawassa in a separate report.

The report, by the Workers’ Rights Consortium (WRC), claimed Ethiopian workers had routinely face verbal abuse, were forced to do unpaid overtime and lost pay for drinking water at their workstations.

A PVH spokesperson said: “PVH takes the allegations raised in the WRC report very seriously, noting, however, that some of the interviews are two years old and the park and its practices have evolved since then. We will conduct an immediate and thorough investigation and take appropriate action if any violations are found.”

Average monthly wages for garment workers

Turkey – $340

China – $326

Thailand – $309

Indonesia – $280

Malaysia – $267

South Africa – $244

Kenya – $207

Cambodia – $182

Vietnam – $180

Lesotho – $146

Laos – $128

Bangladesh – $95

Myanmar – $95

Ethiopia – $26

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