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Ethiopian wages at $21 a month have US corporations excited

By Richard Mellor - We Know What's Up, August 1, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Back in December 2011, Hilary Clinton visited Myanmar in the wake of the military dictatorship’s introduction of reforms.  Ms. Clinton was accompanied on that visit by corporate leaders looking for lucrative investment opportunities and cheap labor. Military dictatorship’s can be a bit too unstable for investors looking for profits sometimes, but with a firm grip on dissent and unions they can be good business partners.

US president Barack Obama has just finished a 5-day visit to East Africa with the same goal in mind.  “Africa is the final frontier in the global rag trade—the last untapped continent with cheap and plentiful labor,”  the Wall Street Journal wrote prior to Obama’s exploratory mission.  What with Chinese workers waging successful struggles for higher wages and the Cambodians following suite, Africans are in the sights of the garment industry investors.

Even the poverty stricken garment workers in Bangladesh who earn at least $67 a month are too expensive for the likes of WalMart and other Western retailers. PVH, the parent company of Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger and VF, parent company of brands that include Wrangler, Lee and Timberland, are looking to descend on Africa like vultures on a dying animal.  JC Penney and Levi Strauss have been moving production to Africa as well. Ethiopia is a particularly attractive location as economic growth has been pleasing Wall Street and the country has no minimum wage.  Ethiopian garment workers were earning $21 a month as of last year according to the Ethiopian government. Despite lacking in infrastructure and a relatively untrained (for sewing garments) labor force, the apparel companies are “still drawn to the cheap labor and inexpensive power…” the WSJ writes.

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