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Friday, 15 March, 2002, 23:28 GMT
US trade 'exploits' Lesotho workers
Lesotho knitting factory
The textile industry is Lesotho's biggest employer
A big jump in textiles exports from Lesotho to the US has resulted in worsening working conditions in the southern African country, according to the country's Clothing and Allied Workers Union.

The US International Trade Commission (ITC), which overseas the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), reported a 50% rise in textiles exports to just over 300,000 tonnes in 2001/02

Growth must be seen against the backdrop of appalling working conditions characterised by poor wages and unduly long working hours

Daniel Maraisane
Shop steward
It also said the textile industry was now Lesotho's biggest employer with more than 40,000 workers.

But a Lesotho trade union has alleged that the increase was partly thanks to exploitation of textile workers.

AGOA gives sub-Saharan countries preferential access to the US market for apparel and textile products as well as a wide range of other goods.

Its aim was to transform relations between some of the world's poorest nations and the US to one of trade partners from aid dependency.

Workers exploited

The Lesotho Clothing & Allied Workers Union (LCAWU) said textile factories often ignored Lesotho's labour laws.

"Taiwanese companies together with ministers in our government who are shareholders are running the companies so it is very difficult to enforce the law," Billy Macaefa of the LCAWU told the BBC's World Business Report.

"We have complained to the Americans and what we want the US to do is to inspect what we are alleging."

The union claimed companies arbitrarily dismissed workers and many refused to recognise trade unions.

It also said many employees worked a seven day week and were often required to work overtime to meet company production targets. Failure to do so resulted in wage cuts, the union said.

"This [export] growth must be seen against the backdrop of the appalling working conditions in the textile industry which are characterised by poor wages and unduly long working hours," said Daniel Maraisane, a shop steward at Reflex Knitwear, one of the factories designed for Agoa exports.

Trade benefits

Lesotho, a mountainous country encircled by South Africa, is one of 35 countries whose exports have been boosted by Agoa.

ITC figures show African nations earned $8.4bn in the first 11 months of 2001 thanks to Agoa.

Foreign investors receive incentives to invest from the Lesotho government, including a six-year tax holiday.

Billy Macaefa, Lesotho Clothing and Allied
"Taiwanese companies together with ministers in our government are shareholders running the companies."
See also:

12 Feb 02 | Business
Tanzania wins US export rights
07 Mar 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Lesotho
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