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Gebrechristos Gebreegziabher, Nigisty (2023) Labour Retention end Workforce Development in Ethiopia's Apparel and Textile Industry: The Case of Hawassa Industrial Park. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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This research examines the dynamics and challenges of labour retention and, more broadly, building an industrial workforce in the Ethiopian apparel and textile industry in the 2010s/early 2020s through the case of Hawassa Industrial Park (HIP), Africa’s largest apparel hub (employing 35,000 workers, primarily women). This is an under-researched topic despite the importance of building a productive labour force for governments and firms in late industrialising low-income economies of the twenty-first century. This original research uses a qualitative research design and case study strategy that draws on various types of evidence from extended fieldwork combining quantitative and qualitative methods. First, the thesis highlights that variation and unevenness are key features and discusses why this variation exists. Retention was uneven among industrial parks, primarily influenced by disparities in government policies and roles of regional and local governments, the capability and strategies of FDI firms, and the peculiarities of local factors—political, economic, and socio-cultural factors. Across firms within the HIP, retention was uneven, primarily driven by their specific strategies, human resource practices, and firm managers’ ability to adapt to local conditions drawing from their manufacturing experiences. Second, a historical perspective on capitalist development helps illuminate the protracted nature and tensions within the development of an industrial labour force. However, this process has begun to evolve in an astonishingly short time in Ethiopia. This research presents new evidence on this ‘live’ historical development: highlighting a range of issues, including the relationship between government policies and firms’ strategies regarding recruitment of labour and labour retention (and changes in these policies and strategies) and the tensions between the competitive forces compelling firm behaviour and the needs of workers for returns to labour. Finally, the Ethiopian case shows the contradictory forces at play: between, on the one hand, pressure to maximise profit through ‘competitiveness’, in particular through low wages and ‘flexible’ labour policies and labour markets and, on the other hand, pressure to protect labour rights and to secure ‘socially inclusive’ and politically legitimate development. Crafting government policies that can attract foreign direct investment while engaging with and managing this pressure is far from easy. Unlike the newly industrialising economies of the twentieth century, such as East Asian economies, governments and firms are compelled and expected to follow policies that respect labour rights and offer decent living conditions. Unlike mainstream views advocating minimal government intervention, generic prescriptions, and labour market flexibility, this case shows that government policies played a productive role. Using a conceptual framework drawn from different disciplines (including economics and sociology), it analyses the diverse viewpoints of workers, firm executives, and policymakers and the intricate interaction of those viewpoints that shape the workforce. Yet this study argues that there has been inadequate prioritisation, in industrial policies and firms’ strategies, of the issue of workforce development, and it suggests the need for new research to fill the gaps in empirical evidence.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses
Supervisors Name: Laura Hammond, Christopher Cramer and Carlos Oya
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 05 Apr 2023 17:59

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