Three proposals to support African garments workers during the coronavirus crisis

Dominic McVey and Dirk Willem te Velde, March 2020


Exports of African textiles and garments have grown rapidly over the past decade. Exports from African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA)-eligible countries to the US have nearly doubled, from $790 million in 2010 to $ 1.5 billion in 2019, with Kenya one of the largest suppliers and Ethiopia the fastest growing. Unfortunately, US orders are considerably down following store closures, and operations in African factories could cease to operate within weeks.

If nothing is done, factories in Kenya would find it too expensive to pay their workers during uncertain times. They could be forced to close and implement lay-offs. Workers in Ethiopia will leave factories, even if they received subsidised pay. But in other contexts, factories with the right networks and capabilities may be able to retool.

This note provides three proposals to support garment workers in African countries who may lose their jobs in two to three weeks time. The proposals may have applicability in other sectors but need to be tailored to the specific context.

Photo: Factory workers producing shirts at Sleek Garment Export, in Accra, Ghana Dominic Chavez /The World Bank. Licence: (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)