TRALAC - Trade Law Centre

Apparel sourcing: Is Africa ready for a rush?

Thursday, 18 February 2016 Published: | Lyndsay McGregor

Source: Sourcing Journal

Roughly half of all American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA) members source from Africa today, and following last summer’s 10-year renewal of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), that number is likely to increase.

However, as discussed during a Sourcing at Magic seminar Wednesday titled “Africa on the Verge,” that duty-free access is temporary and the continent needs to start putting infrastructure in place now so that in 10 years, its textile and garment industry will be competitive regardless of whether AGOA is renewed or not.

“There’s a lot of pressure to ramp up an industry really fast in Africa—too fast. And we’ve seen many examples of what happens when an industry ramps up too fast in a country,” Nate Herman, AAFA vice president of international trade, pointed out, citing Bangladesh and Cambodia.

Bill McRaith, chief supply chain officer at PVH Corp., owner of the Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger brands, agreed, noting that today Africa sits on the verge of a rush that could overwhelm it very quickly.

“We often use Bangladesh as an example of where it was done wrong, but within Bangladesh there are some very good factories. However, people generally talk about Bangladesh as something that’s difficult,” McRaith said, posing some thought-provoking questions to the crowd: “How do you want [Africa] to be thought of five years from now? How will people refer to Kenya or Ethiopia in five years? Will they use it as Bangladesh as an example of what’s wrong in the world? Or will they refer to it like they do Sri Lanka? It’s the decisions you make today that will determine how people will talk about you tomorrow.”

That’s why PVH has been instrumental in setting up a socially-responsible vertical facility in Hawassa, Ethiopia, that’s slated to start production next summer.

“We said we will carve out a world where we only allow good actors into the neighborhood and prevent bad actors getting into the neighborhood and pulling down the whole neighborhood,” McRaith said, adding, “For us, Africa is not a short-term play. We’re not going to Africa for next season’s products. This is about us winning for the next five to 20 years.”

“We need to make sure that the factories that are being built today are being built in the right way,” echoed Jeremy Lott, president of SanMar, a promotional product distributor that started sourcing from Africa six years ago. “But is 10 years enough? Can those investments happen in a meaningful way in that timeframe?”

Avedis Seferian, president and CEO of non-profit organization WRAP (Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production), said that things are already starting to move in the right direction, noting that the number of African factories seeking certification has grown of late. This signals to him that people are recognizing the importance of compliance and are willing to invest in training and management systems to deal with compliance issues the same way they deal with production issues.

“Instead of treating it as an ad hoc ‘We’ll deal with it when it comes along,’” he said. “You cannot rest your competitiveness purely on a trade preference program. It’s a fleeting edge and should only be a way in. You should build on it in order to get truly competitive.”

“Most people believe to bring all the aspects of doing it right means it’s too expensive. But to do it right doesn’t cost you any more than doing it wrong,” McRaith said.

“The danger of doing it wrong could result in an industrial accident, like in Bangladesh, or unstable or volatile working relations with the factory workers that’s marring Cambodia,” Avedis continued. “Competitiveness, historically, has been seen simply as the price you pay. That’s not enough. You have to ask yourself what’s the cost of doing business in this place, not simply the price you pay to make your goods there.”


View related news articles

'Changing jeans sourcing scene has these countries coming up roses'

'Changing jeans sourcing scene has these countries coming up roses'

The sourcing landscape for denim jeans is slowly but certainly shifting, while overall U.S. blue denim apparel imports continue to decline. Imports of jeans fell 7.43 percent in the first two months of the year compared to the same period in 2020 to a value of $460.25 million, expanding on a 5.36 percent year-over-year falloff in January, according to the Commerce...

09 April, 2021
Lesotho: '45,000 textile jobs at severe risk'

Lesotho: '45,000 textile jobs at severe risk'

With only about a week left, the United States government says it is "disheartened" by Lesotho's failure to address its human trafficking concerns. This puts the country on the brink, with the real risk of losing billions of maloti in funding under the second compact and about 45 000 textiles jobs facing serious jeopardy. The US had given Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro's...

29 January, 2021
Ghana Apparel Training Centre launched to develop garment industry

Ghana Apparel Training Centre launched to develop garment industry

In efforts to support Ghana’s garment manufacturing industry, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, together with its partners – Ethical Apparel Africa (EAA), Gerber, Groz Beckert, Freudenberg and Accra Technical Training College (ATTC), have officially launched the Ghana Apparel Training & Service Centre, in Accra. The launch...

27 November, 2020
Kingdom of Lesotho must seize textile manufacturing crown

Kingdom of Lesotho must seize textile manufacturing crown

The country has the right skills in place — now it just needs co-ordination and capacity. The health and economic crisis brought on by Covid-19 has had a global economic effect. From disrupted supply chains to restrictions on the free movement of people and their skills, goods and capital, the world has had to adjust to a “new normal”. A question on the lips of those...

25 September, 2020
US sets lower annual apparel import cap under AGOA

US sets lower annual apparel import cap under AGOA

The US has set new lower annual limits on duty and quota-free imports of apparel articles assembled from regional and third-country fabric under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) in the upcoming fiscal year. The new figures are released by the Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements (CITA) for the 12 months from 1 October 2020 to 30 September...

18 September, 2020
Kenya: Apparel firms ride on Corona battle

Kenya: Apparel firms ride on Corona battle

The apparel sector is one of those targeted by the government for expansion in a bid to bolster the economy and create jobs. Although it has been identified as a key pillar of the economy, the textile sector has for long remained in the doldrums. The government has instituted a number of measures and demonstrated renewed commitment over the recent past to boost the...

19 May, 2020