Chinese companies bring jobs to Africa

 

(Xinhua, Washington). A major Chinese shoe manufacturer, Hua Jian, started a factory in Ethiopia just a few months ago, with a plan to invest $2 billion and create 100,000 local jobs over the next decade.

"We want Ethiopian employees who came from poor backgrounds to use the company as a platform to fulfill their dreams and to help them out of poverty," said Helen Hai, vice-president of Hua Jian Industrial Holdings, during a panel discussion in Washington on Saturday at the Spring Meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.

Many of the company's workers in China came from poor backgrounds, harboring similar humble and grateful feelings with its African workers, she said.

Hua Jian broke ground in 1984 with only a handful of workers and a few sewing machines. Over the past years, the company has become one of the largest shoemakers in China, with 25,000 employees producing 20 million pairs of shoes annually.

Meanwhile, economic ties between China and Africa have also boomed over the past years.

China is the largest trade partner of Africa. In 2011, the trade volume between China and Africa reached $160 billion, representing a 30-percent increase year on year.

Experts said Africa holds possibilities for entrepreneurs from China amid rising labor costs for Chinese workers. On average, the African workers cost one-fifth of the price of their Chinese counterparts. The continent also has the youngest and fastest growing population in the world.

"Africa's opportunity is now," said Obiageli Ezekwesili, the World Bank's vice-president for the Africa Region. "With rising labor costs in China and other East Asian countries, many of the jobs will be moving abroad."

However, there are some hurdles to bring job growth to Africa, including corruption, lack of infrastructure and supply chain and logistics issues.

Hinh T. Dinh, a leading economist at the World Bank, said while Africa's GDP grew 5.2 percent per year, it has not provided enough sustainable jobs for the continent.

Some experts say Africa has the potential to produce millions of productive jobs if the barriers can be removed and more foreign companies including those from China pour investment there.

Asked about whether it could be difficult to recruit Chinese managers or skilled workers to work in Africa as they would have to abandon a metropolitan life, Hai, from Hua Jian, said that is not a problem.

Some 300 veteran Chinese workers voluntarily flew to Ethiopia to provide training at Hua Jian's plant, she said.

At this stage, the Chinese trainers are needed to school Ethiopian workers, but the company plans to develop local talents, she said.

Over the past decades, many Chinese enterprises have invested noticeably in Africa, seeking more overseas opportunities and helping boost economies of many African countries.

Huawei, a Chinese leading global telecom solution provider, opened up the African market in 1996.

Over the past 16 years, Huawei has set up two regional departments, 20 representative offices, two research centers and six training centers with a total investment of $1.5 billion on the continent.

It also employed more than 4,000 people, over 65 percent of whom are locals.

Touchroad, a Chinese company set up in Africa in 2002, has currently eight subsidiaries in Africa, creating more than 8,000 local jobs.

Hai said that contrary to the oft-heard narrative that African workers are inefficient, she found high efficiency levels among a group of Ethiopian trainees her company had sent to China to learn shoe-making skills, with some even exceeding Chinese workers' productivity.

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