$26 a month: Ethiopians are being paid world’s lowest wages to make your Calvin Kleins
(ABC Net Australia) — Ethiopia is trying to become the new Bangladesh of garment factory labour by promising the lowest wages in the world, but the workers themselves report they’re struggling to survive on US$26 a month while stitching clothes for Calvin Klein, H&M and other brands.
A study from New York University’s Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, released this week, tells an old story: the hidden cost of the fashion industry.
It’s also a classic story of neoliberal economic development, one that’s been played out countless times since the 1990s: An impoverished country seeks foreign investment by declaring itself ‘open for business’, and offers up a vast and willing labour force.
Global capital, forever scouring the world for a competitive advantage, sets up shop: Factories are built, and young uneducated women are recruited from agricultural villages.
In 2015-16, Ethiopia built the state-owned Hawassa Industrial Park, located 140 miles south of the capital of Addis Ababa. The park currently has 25,000 employees producing garments for global brands also including Levi’s, Guess, and Tommy Hilfiger.
An Ethiopian government brochure for potential foreign investors advertised: “Cheap and skilled labor: 1/7 of China and 1/2 of Bangladesh.”
In fact, the labour would be even cheaper: Workers are being paid $26 a month, almost a quarter of the $95 a month minimum wage in Bangladesh.