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Floriculture and horticulture industries in Ethiopia

Ethiopia is the second largest exporter of flowers in Africa. Vegetable production is similarly growing at a fast pace, especially snow peas and extra fine beans. All these commodities are traded on the global market. The Government of Ethiopia is prioritizing the development of horticulture through infrastructure development and support of local and foreign investment in the sector. In 2015, Ethiopia generated more than US$ 114 million from horticultural exports (EHCD). The Women@Work Campaign focuses on cut flower and vegetables (snow peas and extra fine beans) value chains in Ethiopia The workforce in this sector is  over 70% women.

Whereas the political climate in Ethiopia is conducive for trade and investment, the protection of labor rights remains secondary. Workers in the horticultural sector are poorly paid. Wages in the sector range from ETB. 500 to ETB. 1,000 (US$ 25 to US$ 50), per month. This is well below a living wage. Women are preferred to men for employment in the cut flower, green beans and avocado production. These women however occupy low positions, mostly as unskilled, casual laborers that are also poorly paid. Although trade unions exist to promote workers’ rights, agitation for better working conditions is restricted. Reports have revealed the dismissal and harassment of workers for participating in union work.

Many workers - especially in vegetables production - do not have permanent contracts, thus compromising their job security. As a result, they are locked out of workplace benefits such as the right to unionization, leave and social security, among others. This problem is particularly widespread among workers engaged in vegetable production, which is a seasonal crop, with significant breaks in between production.

In spite of the high numbers and proportion of women workers, the uptake of women in leadership positions is limited. This has been attributed to a culture characterized by patriarchy which hinders the personal development and career progression of women workers. This leads to unresponsive workplace systems and structures that lack accountability. Women workers are significantly less educated than their male counterparts. They also face many competing demands on their time, often having to balance their housework and farm work.

Laws, policies and government

While the law is generally protective of workers’ rights, enforcement of these laws remains extremely weak. Not surprisingly, many flower and vegetable farms do not invest in implementing key provisions of the Labor proclamations, particularly on sexual harassment and safe workplace conditions. Furthermore, where sustainability certification is concerned, the emphasis is largely placed on growers meeting the environmental and quality related conditions. Where social conditions are considered, there is a marked relaxation in the enforcement of certification standards.

The political climate for labor rights advocacy prior to the election of the current prime minister  was significantly strained. Firstly the registration of CSOs and charitable organizations by government is restrictive, especially where human rights are considered. Their activities were constantly monitored, with many human rights defenders being incarcerated or harassed for undertaking their work.  There is however a significant change with the new government relaxing many of the restrictive regulations. Furthermore, the legal provisions relating to financing of such entities by foreign development partners and donors is heavily restricted, with the consequence that many CSOs have collapsed or been forced out of the human rights sector.

In partnership with Hivos, National Federation of Farm, Plantation, Fishery and Agro Industry Trade Unions (NFFPFATU) is implementing a project aimed at enhancing protection of women workers from sexual harassment at the farms, raising awareness on rights as enshrined in the constitution, labor proclamations and other laws and regulations among workers, and on increasing awareness on collective bargaining mechanisms, skills and conflict handling and management mechanisms among women workers. In this initial phase, NFFPFATU is implementing this project in 30 flower farms. Strategic partnerships and collaboration with key government ministries, private sector stakeholders including the Ethiopian Horticulture Producer Exporters Association (EHPEA), the Ethiopian Horticulture Development Agency (EHDA) and flower growers.

Related news and views

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  • Ethiopian parliament passes law on sexual harassment


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    In this blog, Caroline Wahome talks with Beredu Site about her work as the lead of the Women Committee in an Ethiopian flower farm.

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