Labour-intensive manufacturing has grown rapidly in parts of Africa in recent years. Despite some emerging research we know little about the workers whose labour drives this expansion. This panel therefore investigates the working lives of Africans in the region's new manufacturing sectors.
Manufacturing employment and production have grown rapidly in parts of sub-Saharan Africa in recent years, driven by the expansion of light manufacturing. Manufacturing exports from sub-Saharan Africa doubled between 2005 and 2014 (Te Velde 2016). In part this is due to increases in foreign direct investment, of which ventures by Chinese companies have perhaps attracted the most attention. In a region characterised by low wages, high unemployment and comparatively easy access to consumer markets in EU and the US, we could see a substantial reordering of production networks built around labour-intensive manufactuing, prompting parts of the business press to declare Africa 'the new China'. Some of China's 85 million labour-intensive manufacturing jobs might move to Africa, but the window of opportunity may close soon (Lin 2011).
Many African men and women have found employment in new and expanding factories across the continent. Who is getting these new jobs? What are their expectations? How do new workers adapt to the rigidities of factory life? What skills do they gain? How does labour productivity evolve? How do they bargain for better conditions? Is labour retention a challenge, and why? These and other questions frame the analytical and empirical focus of this panel.
Despite some emerging field-based research we know comparatively little about the workers whose labour is the foundation of manufacturing expansion. We therefore invite papers that investigate the working lives of Africans in the region's new manufacturing sectors, with particular interests in the questions proposed above.