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ADDIS ABABA – A leading global union claims some workers in Ethiopia’s textile and garment sector are being paid as little as 600 Ethiopian Birr (US$20) per month while making clothes for western brands. The likes of H&M, Tchibo, Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein and PVH are all sourcing from Ethiopia now as the country continues to grow its garment export sector at a rapid rate. Ethiopia is targeting exports worth US$30bn by 2025, a huge and potentially unrealistic increase on its current annual shipments of US$115m.

More than 65 textile investment projects have been licensed for foreign investors in the last five years as businesses from China – woo’d by a range of inward investor sweeteners from government – seek to take advantage of Ethiopia’ plentiful supply of cheap labour.

However, there are ongoing concerns that social regulation in Ethiopia will fail to keep pace with economic development. Now, IndustriALL Global Union affiliate the Industrial Federation of Textile, Leather and Garment Workers Trade Unions (IFTLGWU) is leading the campaign for better wages, workers’ rights to organise, and collective bargaining.

The campaign is targetting industrial parks set up by the government including Bole Lemi in Addis Ababa (pictured) where South Korean garment manufacturer, Shints, employs 4,300 workers, of whom 3,800 are union members. Other parks targeted by the campaign are the huge Hawassa park and Mekele.

Unions see minimum wages as a starting point in reversing low wages and are demanding they be included in new labour laws under consideration. They are campaigning for minimum wages above ETB 3373 (US$121).

Meetings have taken place between the Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions (CETU) and various stakeholders including the ILO. There were also meetings with the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs to discuss minimum wages.

IndustriALL director for the textile and garment sector, Christina Hajagos-Clausen, who will speak at a workshop on organising in the supply chain in Addis Ababa later this month said: “We support Ethiopian unions on the introduction of minimum wages to set at a level of a living wage. We demand further that workers be paid what other garment workers earn globally.

“Therefore, we are promoting global framework agreements in the sector to stop global brands from exploiting cheap labour in developing countries. Living wages can lift workers out of poverty.”

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