Boosting welfare in textile industry

Stakeholders are keen to improve incomes and mainstream gender

In Summary

• Productivity in the sector is dependent on worker wellness, say manufactures

Thika Cloth Mills CEO Tejal Dodhia at the Thika-based garment making firm
Thika Cloth Mills CEO Tejal Dodhia at the Thika-based garment making firm

Workers in the textile and apparel industry in Kenya have received renewed hope after leaders in the industry in the country gathered to stimulate procedures to improve their welfare in the sector.

IDH Kenya recently convened a meeting in Mombasa to propose and implement ways of promoting better jobs and high income.

Gender mainstreaming took centre stage in the discourse that forms part of the Netherlands-headquartered institute’s mandate in the country.

The meeting brought together participants from 20 organisations in the sector. 

These include manufacturers, domestic and export promoters, designers, institutions of higher training, employer partners, representatives of foreign buyers, employee representatives and the national and county governments.

IDH is implementing a project in conjunction with Generation Programme Kenya to further this agenda, its country director Jenny Löfbom told the gathering.

“We are on a journey to maximise productivity and uphold workplace satisfaction in the textiles and apparel industry workers through our project, ‘Better Jobs in Sustainable Textile and Apparel Parks (Instep),” she said.

She said the textile and apparel sector in Kenya is largely controlled by global brands that are increasingly enshrining sustainability at the core of their businesses. This includes stringent social standards targeting workers.

“The sector in Kenya has continued to grow and absorb more employees in the last few years,” she said.

“The growth in the sector has been triggered by the American Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) as well as other internal factors and a shift in supply patterns from Asia driving global brands to increase sourcing from Africa.”

Corrine Ngurukie-Yamo from Generation Programme Kenya said the sector is poised for further growth in the coming years owing to a favourable business environment and goodwill from the government.

“As the sector expands, we need to ensure that workers are well taken care of, including advancing employee support in the socioeconomic, psychological, work environment, safety and health and general well-being,” she said.

The Kenya Association of Manufacturers, which was represented by trade and policy manager Abel Kamau, supported the initiative, saying productivity in the sector is dependent on worker wellness.

 “We are delighted that IDH has become a pacesetter with Instep, which is a clear representation of the need for more investment in this sector,” he said. “We are looking at a future of more investment in this field by different players and consequently having a fair share in the social departments,” Kamau said.

Instep programme manager Caroline Ngumba emphasised initiatives that promote gender mainstreaming in the sector.

“As we promote better jobs and better income, we shall also be supporting interventions that among other things enhance the gender aspect in the industry,” she said.

“This calls for training, policy formulation and strategic partnerships.”

Despite Kenya’s Economic Survey report of 2022 by KEBS showing that the number of local employees engaged in Export Processing Zone enterprises went up by 17 per cent in 2021, the country is still facing a critical shortage of skilled apparel workers to take up the expanding opportunities.

Heavy workload is among the challenges workers in this industry face.

Under Instep, IDH is undertaking an assessment of labour rights in industrial parks, and their findings will be used to improve existing curriculums.

This includes emphasising aspects of social sustainability, for instance by dealing with sexual harassment and industrial rights of workers.

It also covers sustainable environmental practices, such as water and energy conservation.

Other aspects are proper handling of chemicals and supporting the inclusion of a career development component in entry and intermediate-level employee training, with emphasis on young and female workers.

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