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Kenya: Union success in growing garment and textile sector

22 June, 2018Global brands are increasingly eyeing Kenya to source their apparel as the garment and textile sector rebounds after many years of decline. The Tailors and Textile Workers Union is organizing workers and winning good agreements in this growing industry.

Brands including Arrow, Calvin Klein, H&M, Arrow, Izod, Cherokee and VF Corporation source from Kenya.

The United Aryan factory in the export processing zone of Nairobi gets orders from H&M and makes jeans for Levi’s. The factory’s 2,800 workers are all members of IndustriALL Global Union affiliate the Tailors and Textile Workers Union (TTWU), which has entered into a closed shop agreement with the management, meaning that workers who are hired by the company become union members.

One of the results of the agreement is that most industrial relations issues at the factory are dealt with at the shop floor. With United Aryan planning to open a larger factory that could employ up to 10,000 workers, the closed shop agreement lays a solid foundation for the TTWU’s organizing and recruitment strategies.

Like most garment producing companies, 80 per cent of the workers in the factory are women and the TTWU is developing a programme to deal specifically with the women workers.

The minimum wage at the factory is 13,000 Kenya Shillings (US $127) per month, higher than other Sub Saharan African countries. This is an opportunity to increase them towards living wages.

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

“We will continue to support the recruitment of garment workers by TTWU in Kenya as it contributes to the employment of young women and to the much-needed turnaround to the decline of manufacturing on the continent.”

Kenya’s garment and textile sector can benefit by expanding its market to free trade areas that it belongs to, including the African Continental Free Trade Area, the East African Community, and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa. The country has also signed Economic Partnership Agreements, the European Union African Caribbean and Pacific (Cotonou Agreement) and the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). About 92 per cent of apparel from Kenya is sold in the US under AGOA.

The government of Kenya’s Vision 2030 identifies the garment and textile sector as a driver of industrialization. Currently the sector contributes to 7 per cent of the country’s export earnings.