Africa has some of the world's worst wages for garment workers - the continent's fastest growing economy is the cheapest

Despite being Africa's fastest growing economy, Ethiopia also has the cheapest labour in the entire world.

Ethiopia’s garment workers are the world's worst paid in despite making clothes for top fashion brands (wsj)

According to a new report from New York University's Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, the monthly minimum wage in this East African country is $26.

This makes Ethiopia's garment workers the lowest paid in any major garment-producing company across the globe.

Paul M. Barrett and Dorothée Baumann-Pauly, the authors of the report, say this is due to the country's desire to attract foreign investment.

"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 report read.

Monthly wages for garment-workers are relatively higher in Bangladesh and Myanmar at $95 while Turkey has the highest monthly minimum wage at $340.

Ethiopia sets its self up to attract global investment

In 2018, Ethiopia was described as a country set to become Africa's fastest-growing economy.

This was as a result of various development projects by the East African nation. There were several attempts to create a business-friendly environment for investors by building new industrial parks.

A range of financial incentives was also provided by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), an arm of the World Bank Group.

"This is part of a broader effort by IFC to support Ethiopia by helping create new markets for private investors," IFC said.

By February 2019, Africa's second-most populous nation had achieved its goal. It was named the fastest growing on the continent in PricewaterhouseCoopers' report, 'Nigeria Economic Outlook - Top 10 themes for 2019.' 

But at what cost?

Drawn by the many incentives provided by the country, manufacturers for the world's top fashion brands including H&M all moved to Ethiopia.

These big international brands came in and hired thousands of Ethiopian workers. While this particular sector is estimated to be a very lucrative one, the employers are said to endure poor working conditions for very low pay.

Earlier this year, the authors of the report visited the flagship Hawassa Industrial Park which was opened in June 2017 in southern Ethiopia.

Located in Addis Ababa, it currently has 25,000 people producing clothes for these big fashion brands. Upon getting there, they discovered the employers dealing with an extremely hostile working environment.

The report notes that most young Ethiopian workers lack the means to cater to their own needs or support family members. "I'm left with nothing at the end of the month," one factory worker, Ayelech Geletu, 21, told The Associated Press last year.

Unable to air their grievances as a result of the country's weak trade union presence, some of the workers have given up.

"Given relatively little training, restive employees have protested by stopping work or quitting altogether. Productivity in the Hawassa factories typically is low, while worker disillusionment and attrition are high," the report said.

Reacting to the report, Abebe Abebayehu, head of Ethiopia's Investment Commission, told AP, "If that was not the case, Chinese companies wouldn't have come to Ethiopia."

Commenting on the report's monthly pay figure of $26 per month, he said, "That is a basic salary but in Ethiopia, the factories also provide a workplace meal and other services."

With prime minister Abiy Ahmed working hard to enhance economic growth, the report is calling on the government to also focus on building a sustainable manufacturing model - one with the best interests of its citizens.

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