Made in Ethiopia: The Potential for Social Upgrading in the Ethiopian Textile Industry

Kristina Feldt & Judith Klein

Student thesis: Master thesis


The textile industry has been a preferred industry to initiate industrialization in many developing countries, as it is a labor-intensive industry and hence creates a lot of jobs. During the last decades, the textile industry has often caught the attention of the media around the world due to unsustainable conditions such as unsafe working conditions and suppression of workers’ rights. In 2013, the collapse of Rana Plaza - a major textile factory in Bangladesh - caused a global outcry. With the case of Bangladesh in mind, we have been intrigued by Ethiopia’s intention to become the world’s next textile hub. The Ethiopian government vigorously promotes the textile sector, hoping to spur industrialization, create jobs that will lift many out of poverty and thereby achieve its goal of becoming a lower middle-income country by 2025. In order to shed light on this newly emerging and uncharted industry, this thesis sets out to explore how different actors influence social upgrading in the growing Ethiopian textile industry. Against the backdrop of the infant Ethiopian textile industry, we have conducted an exploratory study based on semi-structured interviews, which was conducted during a field study in Ethiopia in January 2016. The theoretical foundation of this study is based on an analytical framework, which combines social upgrading theory, global value chain theory, and horizontal and vertical governance concepts. Applying this framework enables an exploration of the influence, which public, private, as well as civil society actors have on social upgrading in the Ethiopian textile industry. The fatal collapse of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh is found be a turning point in the global textile industry. To the benefit of social upgrading, the findings suggest that measurable standards for workers in the Ethiopian textile industry are successfully being targeted. On the one hand, the improvements in measurable standards are driven by lead firms’ vertical governance in value chains and on the other hand, by deeply enrooted cultural features such as pride and a lack of industrial work mentality. To the detriment of social upgrading, enabling rights of workers are not sufficiently promoted nor effectively enforced. The thesis therefore concludes that the potential for social upgrading in the Ethiopian textile industry depends on the ability of all industry actors to collectively take responsibility of promoting workers’ enabling rights. A surprising finding is that the workforce culture seems to be the catalyst of what may be considered the greatest opportunity for social upgrading.

EducationsMSc in Business, Language and Culture, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2016
Number of pages140