LONDON, 29 NOVEMBER 2016
The UK government has today been called on by a coalition of ethical fashion producers and retailers to maintain tariff-free access for African goods after Brexit. The request comes as an attempt to strengthen the nascent African garment and footwear industry, which has the potential to become a major ethical source for the UK market. They presented a compelling business case for trading sustainably and ethically in Africa, at an event organised by Proudly Made in Africa and Soul of Africa at the House of Lords, which would allow individuals and communities to trade their way out of poverty, and also improve performance in product supply chains at the same time.
As UK and European retailers and brands seek to innovate and strengthen their market position by diversifying existing supply chains, Africa’s growing garment and leather industry provides a new source for ready-to-wear garments, shoes and fashion accessories. That potential is very much yet to be fulfilled and companies and brands that engage early will gain a competitive advantage, while helping to realise the promise of a vibrant ethical fashion sector in Africa that creates jobs and brings sustainable development.
Baroness Lola Young of Hornsey, OBE, Trustee of the Aid by Trade Foundation, who hosted the event, said:
“The rapid growth in many African economies offers opportunities for greater sustainability in our value chains and there is a creative industries sector that adds value to African natural resources rather than exporting them raw. This creates job, skills and livelihoods in African countries so that the benefits of production are shared along amongst all those involved. For UK retailers this can render value-chains shorter, more manageable and more transparent, and will create new business opportunities.”
Fashion goods from Africa currently benefit from a tariff free access to the UK market as part of the EU trade policy, which makes them significantly cheaper than products imported from Asia (for example, African goods have a 12% advantage over Chinese items). Proudly Made in Africa, a non-profit that facilitates trade between ethically produced African products and European retailers, makes a series of recommendations for the UK’s trade policy with Africa after Brexit in a policy paper published today, “A Stitch in Time.”
Fair trade expert Albert Tucker, Trustee of Proudly Made in Africa and former Managing Director of Twin Trading, said:
“The zero tariffs and zero quotas regime is now at risk with Brexit. It is essential that the tariff free market access be maintained for African fashion products as it makes the crucial difference for the African supply chains engaging international buyers.
“Proudly Made in Africa calls on the UK government to send a clear signal to traders by committing now that when entering the UK, products from sub-Saharan Africa shall face no worse conditions than at present. Brexit can present an opportunity to implement a trade policy that will incentivise UK retailers and brands to engage actively with the nascent African fashion industry in a way that will also advance the UK international development agenda.”
Soul of Africa, which co-organised the event, presents the perfect success story of a profitable social enterprise making shoes in Africa and selling products globally while contributing to the development of the communities where it operates. Lance Clark, Founder of Soul of Africa and former Managing Director of Clarks Shoes, said:
“Pursuing the idea of giving people the means, the ambition, the pride to help themselves, setting up a quality shoemaking enterprise in Africa was an obvious option for me.”
For European buyers, sourcing from Africa is good for business and presents an opportunity to engage customers with ethical products that help enhance brand reputation. Andreas Streubig, Sustainability Division Manager with German retailer Otto Group, highlighted the opportunities and challenges of sourcing sustainable goods from Africa-based suppliers.
“Increasing the textile value creation would be important for Africa. More than that: it’s an imperative to improve the overall situation of the people, as the textile industry is a pioneering industry that paves the way for others. But we must also be realistic. The basic conditions are still very challenging and some preconditions of textile mass production are still weak or even missing. Hence both sides – western buyers as well as African suppliers – have to learn how to cope with the status quo and work together in an atmosphere of understanding, patience and eagerness to learn and develop.”
Representing the other side of the value chain, Nebil Kellow, Managing Director, Enterprise Partners (Ethiopia), a social enterprise facilitating market development to create jobs and raise income for Ethiopians, explained the potential that exists in Africa for the global textile industry.
“Africa’s lions are on the industrial march. As China transitions towards higher value-add in manufacturing and services, what we are also witnessing is the beginnings of structural transformation across the continent, whose educated youth are eager for jobs and ready to take up the mantle.”