OM in the News: China’s Latest Export–Manufacturing Jobs
Huajian Shoes’ factory outside Addis Ababa is part of the next wave of China’s investment in Africa. It started with infrastructure, especially the kind that helped the Chinese extract African oil, copper, and other raw materials to fuel China’s industrial complex. Now 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, reports BusinessWeek (July 28-Aug. 3, 2014).
At Huajian’s factory, wages of about $40 a month are less than 10% of what comparable Chinese workers make. But just as companies discovered with China when they began manufacturing there in the 1980s, Ethiopia’s workforce is untrained, its power supply is intermittent, and its roads are so bad that trips can take 6 times as long as they should. “Ethiopia is exactly like China 30 years ago,” says Huajian’s CEO, whose company supplies such well-known brands as Nine West and Guess. Frustrated by “widespread inefficiency” in the local bureaucracy, the company is struggling to raise productivity from a level that is about a 1/3 of China’s. Transportation and logistics that cost 4 times what they do in China are prompting Huajian to set up its own trucking company.
Manufacturers coming here don’t have to worry about finding new workers. The population of 96 million is Africa’s second-largest after Nigeria’s. Cheap labor and electricity and a government striving to draw foreign investment make Ethiopia more attractive than many other African nations. “It could become the China of Africa,” says a Johns Hopkins prof.
Classroom discussion questions:
1. Why is China exporting manufacturing jobs?
2. What are the advantages and disadvantages of locating in Ethiopia?