In the spring of 2020, the coronavirus in Africa seems to be shaping up more as a social and economic crisis than as a health crisis, due to early measures decided by the governments, such as border closures. These measures have raised new awareness about the risks of globalization. Globalization, however, should not be seen solely as a problem. We might rather consider that other forms of globalization that are more inclusive, more social, and more democratic can be promoted in the future.
Admittedly, globalization has shown its limits in Ethiopia, as the country is highly dependent on international trade. The prices of basic necessities have risen while workers’ incomes are likely to fall. The Corona crisis highlights the vulnerability of workers in the urban and rural informal sector and the sector of daily work: with the implementation of social distancing measures and the restrictions imposed on public transport, the number of potential customers for the small craftsmen and street traders decreases; and with the slowdown of the economy, the demand for day laborers is falling.
As the crisis affects the entire population, local and family solidarity, and self-help associations, which are traditional strong supports in Ethiopia, are likely to be undermined when the number of those who need assistance increases in proportion to the decline in the number of those able to provide it. Wage labor, growing in labor-intensive sectors such as the garment and floriculture industries, can provide more, but not enough social security, because of the low wages offered by national and foreign investors – for example, Ethiopians working on huge farms or in huge factories to produce for low-cost export, as well as those migrating to the Middle East to provide domestic work feed the international delegation of ”dirty work”.
However, globalization should not be seen only as the source of these problems, but also as part of a solution strategy. Certain sectors like international tourism and high-end crafts for export offering top-of-the-range services or products to a more affluent clientele from the Global North should be urged to pass on the benefits of their lucrative activity to employees, small suppliers (like craftsmen), and the surrounding communities. In the context of a crisis like the Corona pandemic, these locally embedded companies are also in a better position to support their partners and workers.
If these locally anchored companies use their market force and their knowledge of local specificities and needs to integrate more of a social mission in their company strategies, paying attention to working conditions, good wages, and above all workers’ participation, then an enviable future for the quality of work can be envisaged, even under the conditions of globalization.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Constance Perrin-Joly is a sociologist and Senior Lecturer at the University Sorbonne Paris Nord and a member of the “Working Futures” Network at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin.
More articles of the series "Wiko Briefs - Working Futures in Corona Times" can be found here.