Eight hundred fair-wage apparel manufacturing jobs will be coming to West Africa, in part thanks to financial support from a U.S.-government initiative designed to advance global women’s economic empowerment.
The West Africa Trade & Investment Hub (Trade Hub) will utilize Women’s Global Development and Prosperity (W-GDP) funds to establish a model factory with sourcing company Ethical Apparel Africa and manufacturer Maagrace Garment Industries in Ghana. Under this co-investment partnership, Ethical Apparel Africa will receive a $1.35 million grant underpinning an equity investment in Maagrace’s Koforidua factory.
“Ethical Apparel Africa is an exciting co-investment opportunity for the Trade Hub,” Michael Clements, the Trade Hub’s chief of party, said in a statement. “They are an apparel manufacturing company in West Africa who will demonstrate that ethical garment manufacturing can be the norm through delivering cost-competitive, high-quality products while also ensuring that workers are respected, empowered and are paid living wages.”
According to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)—the government agency funding the Trade Hub—the arrangement will set high standards for fair wages and healthy working conditions. Of the new positions, at least 70 percent will go to women, including more than 50 percent of factory middle-management roles. The partnership, co-funded by USAID/Ghana and USAID/West Africa, will also provide Maagrace with modern equipment and technical expertise.
“We will be implementing an efficient model that goes beyond compliance to achieve best-in-class standards, and this will be open for other factories to learn from,” Keren Pybus, Ethical Apparel Africa’s co-founder and CEO, said in a statement. “This project also gives us the ability to create sustainable employment that will focus on the economic empowerment of women and youth.”
Once the model factory becomes fully operational, Ethical Apparel Africa will export $19 million over the next three years, USAID said. At least 80 percent of exports will target the U.S. market duty-free under the African Growth and Opportunity Act. The increased apparel production at Maagrace would primarily satisfy demand for healthcare worker uniforms in the U.S. due to Covid-19.
“We see [Africa] as being the next frontier of manufacturing for garments,” Pybus continued. “But our operating model is based on the fact that all manufacturing should be done ethically. And to us, ‘ethical’ is more than just doing the baseline compliance.”
With the global apparel industry looking for its next manufacturing hub, USAID said “there is a major opportunity for Ghana to build industry, create jobs, and develop its export economy.” The organization touted the country’s low costs of living, fast shipping times and competitive labor costs.
Ghana is not the only West African country looking to expand its apparel manufacturing footprint. A surrogate for Ivory Coast, located just next door to Ghana, spoke at last month’s Texworld New York City virtual conference. Valérie Vencatachellum, Ivory Coast’s country head at the U.K. nonprofit Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, said plans to set up a textile manufacturing hub in the country are still “extremely conceptual.”
“What the government here is looking to do is to set up the infrastructure that will allow you to just come and set up your factory according to your needs,” Vencatachellum said. “But the main question currently is this positioning in terms of best-in-class and really sustainable processes and infrastructure, eco-industrial parks, processing of wastewater, etc.”
Currently, she said the country is working on a feasibility study looking into building an industrial park. If everything goes well, she estimated it could be ready in about 18 months to two years.