A conference focusing on Ethiopia’s Textile and Garment Industry with a theme “Towards Increasing Sustainability and Competitiveness in Ethiopia’s textile and garment industry” took place on Monday (February 8) at the Hilton Hotel in Addis Ababa. The conference was organized by the relevant government ministries, including the Ministry of Trade, the Ethiopian Textile Industry Development Institute, GIZ, and the Ethiopian Textile and Garment Manufacturer Association ETGAMA. ETGAMA’s mission is to create a vibrant textile and garment sector to play a leading role in the growth and development of manufacturing industry. Senior government officials, leaders from Ethiopian and international textile and garment manufacturers, and professionals from partner organizations participated in the conference.
The government is now working towards the development of cotton, textile and garment sector as a priority within the planned industrial development. It is a sector that touches a wide spread of other sub-sectors maximizing production and creates substantial sources of employment. It also offers the prospect of significant foreign export earnings. The aim is to enable the industry to develop rapidly and become internationally competitive. The Government has underlined its commitment to develop this industry and aspires to export more than a billion dollars worth of apparel by 2016. In fact, in response to government’s policies, investors from different countries and major global brands are now investing in the country or are opening branches in the country. Currently a number of garment industrial companies from Turkey and India and also European high-street stores have started production in the country.
The overarching objective of Monday’s conference was to help improve the competitiveness of the Ethiopian textile and garment industry as a contributor to sustainable employment generation and to the economic development in the country. It aimed at promoting awareness of the importance of social and environmental standards with a view to drawing attention to key sustainability challenges within the Ethiopian textile and garment industry. It also intended to provide inspiration for practical action, as well as set the stage for a continuous dialogue and joint action amongst stakeholders from the private, public and citizens sectors in Ethiopia including local manufacturers and international buyers.
The conference had a number of sessions, including a discussion forum on “Inputs: sustainability and competitiveness from field to fashion”, assessing the current state of sustainability standards and compliance in Ethiopia, and a plenary session: “Practitioner perspectives on sustainability”. There were also breakout sessions on practical approaches and best practices with applicability to Ethiopia with particular reference to social and environmental standards for increased competitiveness, as well as training approaches for effective skill development: “Social and environmental standards for increased competitiveness and best practices from Bangladesh” and “Training approaches for effective skill development”. Another plenary discussion focused on opportunities and the way forward to improve the sustainability and competitiveness of the Ethiopian textile and garment industry.
The Director General of the Ethiopian Textile Industry Development Institute, Sileshi Lemma, launching the conference, emphasized that the Ethiopian cotton, textile and garment sector was one of the key manufacturing industries prioritized by the government. There was, he said, substantial anticipation of its contribution to the success of the Growth and Transformation Plan II. Dr. Axel Klaphake, Country Director of GIZ for Ethiopia, noted that there were three areas that were important for creating the backbone of a strong textile and garment industry: investment in the implementation of social and environmental standards across value chains, strengthening skill development for qualified personnel and promoting local and sustainable cotton production. Sustainability, he said, was an issue that needs to be considered in the whole textile value chain from field to fashion. The President of the Ethiopian Textile and Garment Manufacture’s Association, Fassil Tadesse, emphasized that the association was working to create a vibrant textile and garment sector which could play a leading role in the growth and development of the manufacturing industry by bridging the gap through capacity building, market link and policy advocacy.
The industry is currently growing rapidly. Exports have increased substantially over the past ten years. The Ethiopian government has set the sector as a focus for the Growth and Transformation Plan II (2015-2020), aiming to boost exports to reach one billion USD by the end of the Plan period, and to create close to 350,000 jobs. Investment incentives, capacity building and skill upgrades, competitive salaries and EU/US tax regulations and export agreements in Ethiopia as well as growing production costs and insufficient social standards in some Asian countries have been encouraging buyers to look for opportunities in Africa. Ethiopia has the potential to serve as a benchmark for sustainable textile industries for a number of reasons including the relatively high status of social and environmental standards in some export-oriented Ethiopian industries, and the large trainable labor force that can provide for the needs of the labor-intensive textile and garment industry. In addition, the sector, with some 130 companies, is still small enough to help implement a system based on sustainability principles from the beginning.
The conference was intended to be a starting point for initiatives to catalyze sustained and sustainable development of the textile and garment sector in line with international social and environmental standards. It aimed to help improve the competitiveness of the Ethiopian textile and garment industry as contributor to sustainable employment generation and economic development of the country, and promote awareness on the importance of social and environmental standards. It drew attention to key sustainability challenges within the Ethiopian textile and garment industry; and emphasized the importance of organizing continuous dialogue and joint action amongst stakeholders. As part of the process, the 2nd Ethiopian International Textile and Apparel Expo, designed to promote the textile and apparel industries and serve as a platform for local and international suppliers and producers, was organized at the time of the conference, at Addis Ababa’s Millennium Hall, from February 6 to 9. The Expo provided another example of the Government’s emphasis on the importance of expanding textile production through foreign direct investment and high textile export performance.
In addition, the major Swedish firm H&M, together with the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), on Monday this week announced the launch of an industrial relations project aiming to improve the development of a socially sustainable textile and garment industry in Ethiopia. In a statement, H&M said that promoting a well-functioning dialogue between partners on the labor market was a fundamental and important part of the company’s fair living wage strategy. The ILO highlights the importance of promoting freedom of association and collective bargaining as necessary for workers and employers to negotiate wages and working conditions, and H & M said it shared this view and that was why its strategy was focused on improving industrial relations. The firm said “this three year project will assist the Ethiopian government, social partners and major industry stakeholders in their efforts to promote social dialogue and improve productivity as well as improve wages and working conditions through nurturing sound labor relations practices and promoting collective bargaining.” The project is funded by SIDA and H&M and implemented by the ILO in collaboration with the Ethiopian Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, the Ministry of Industry, the Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions and Ethiopian Employers Federation. The Head of Sustainability at H & M said: “Well-functioning relations and social dialogue on the labor market is key to improve working conditions and establish fair living wages. We are engaged in projects which have the aim of strengthening employees’ rights and their ability to negotiate on their own behalf on their terms and conditions through trade unions and or democratic elected employee representatives. Our goal is for all of our strategic supplier factories to have democratically elected and functional workplace representation in place by 2018 at the latest.”