The Bitter and the Sweet: managerial perceptions of the wellbeing of Ethiopian female apparel and horticultural workers

420 Muirhead Tower
Tuesday 28 November 2023 (14:00-15:30)

Convenor: Dr Kailing Xie

Dr Elsje Fourie (Senior) Assistant Professor of Globalisation and Development Studies, Maastricht University, Netherland.

Observers of Ethiopia’s entry into export-oriented global value chains (GVC) generally agree that social upgrading is crucial if these chains’ largely female workforce is to reap the benefits of participation. They disagree, however, on the extent to which a ‘business case’ can be made to involve in this upgrading the managers who link frontline workers to international buyers. This article takes a novel approach to these questions by directly asking these managers and those who advise them on human resources how they understand the wellbeing of their frontline workers. Drawing on 37 qualitative semi-structured interviews, we find great variation in the extent to which such actors are interested in pursuing worker wellbeing and social upgrading beyond basic compliance. This is indeed due in part to the sectoral dynamics that have shaped managers’ views of what constitutes a profitable labour regime, but also by sociocultural factors that include managers’ own national contexts, gender and class. Moving from a culture of compliance to one of social upgrading—from the business case to the social case—requires both engaging with cultural expectations around progress and making invisible relationships visible.


Dr. Elsje Fourie (E.E.) is a sociologist specializing in cultural globalization. Her research explores the impact of knowledge, societal values, and cultural exchanges on the global South, with a focus on whether these processes lead to "multiple modernities" or convergence. Her work includes investigations into the adoption of Japanese productivity methods in Ethiopian factories and the influence of the "Chinese model" on African elites' development goals. Currently, she is researching the role of globally successful novels in shaping readers' sense of geographical belonging and community.

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