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African textile, leather and garment unions meeting strategizes on AGOA

A strategy workshop organized by the Solidarity Centre Kenya in Nairobi 16-17 April, attended by 27 participants that included IndustriALL Global Union affiliates from Ethiopia, Eswatini, Kenya and Lesotho, confederations from the four countries, and regional bodies, EATUC and SATUCC, discussed how workers’ rights can be protected using the US trade law, the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).

AGOA, from which 40 African countries are beneficiaries, and 26 enjoy duty free garment exports to the US, has provisions to protect workers’ rights including freedom of association and collective bargaining. Eswatini’s removal and restoration of AGOA benefits was discussed as a case study on how the trade law can be used to protect workers’ rights. 

The US law also aims to promote industrialization through economic policies that reduce poverty, develop infrastructure and provide social services as well as support private enterprise. The integration of African economies into global trade through building trade capacity and linking African to US businesses are some of the goals.

However, the law is silent on women workers’ rights, the environment, and Just Transition issues. It doesn’t also adequately cover supply chains and brands that are sourcing from the AGOA benefiting countries. For instance, targeting brands and supply chains is important for the living wage campaign that unions are carrying out. Most AGOA benefitting countries are not paying living wages and regrettably promoting a race to the bottom on wages. For instance, in the garment sector in Ethiopia wages are as low as US$30.

The AGOA Forum, a civil society grouping that includes trade unions, criticizes the trade law for missing an opportunity to stimulate the transformation of African economies and for using a discredited economic model based on oil and mineral extraction with very little value addition. The Forum says AGOA can do better on women and historically marginalized communities instead of becoming yet another elite project.

Speaking at the workshop Jeffrey Vogt, Solidarity Center’s director for the rule of law department said:

“Recognizing that AGOA has failed to promote trade, the US government included a requirement for beneficiary countries to develop a utilization strategy on a biennial basis as to how more effectively and strategically they will utilize benefits available under AGOA.”

Paule France Ndessomin, IndustriALL regional secretary for Sub Saharan Africa said: 

“International trade laws such as AGOA are important to Africa’s industrialization, which is lagging behind other continents. AGOA’s support for regional integration is in line with the African Union Agenda 2063 and the African Continental Free Trade Area. By boosting exports, through duty-free access to US markets, AGOA has potential to create jobs in Sub Saharan Africa.”


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