Turning Ethiopia Into China’s China
“Zhang Huarong, a former People’s Liberation Army soldier, harangued them in Chinese, tugging at one man’s polo shirt and forcing another worker’s into his pants. Amazed, the workers stood silent until the eruption subsided. Zhang’s factory is part of the next wave of China’s investment in Africa. …
China is getting too expensive to do the low-tech work it’s known for. African nations such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Rwanda, Senegal, and Tanzania want their share of the 80 million manufacturing jobs that China is expected to export, according to Justin Lin Yifu, a former World Bank chief economist who teaches economics at Peking University. Weaker consumer spending in the U.S. and Europe has prompted global retailers to speed up their search for lower-cost producers.
Shaping up employees is one part of Zhang’s quest to squeeze more profit out of Huajian’s factory, where wages of about $40 a month are less than 10 percent of what comparable Chinese workers may make.
Huajian’s 3,500 Ethiopian workers produced 2 million pairs of shoes last year. Located in one of the country’s first industrial zones—which offer better infrastructure and tax exemptions—the factory began operating in January 2012. It became profitable its first year and now makes $100,000 to $200,000 a month, Zhang says—an insufficient return that he claims will rise as workers become better trained. Beneath bright fluorescent lights and amid the drone of machines, workers cut, glue, stitch, and sew Marc Fisher leather boots destined for the U.S. market. Supervisors monitor quotas on whiteboards, giving small cash rewards to winning teams and criticizing those who fall short.”