Global Manufacturing: On To Africa!

Some residents of the New England region of the United States can still remember when states like Massachusetts were globally competitive in the clothing and textiles manufacturing sector.

After the Second World War, of course, the northeastern United States lost most of these factories to southeastern states like North Carolina. Later, during the 1960s and 1970s, the production facilities began to move to the maquiladora region of Mexico.

But the cycle of globalization never stops spinning. During the first decade of the 21st century, these clothing and textile factories shifted again to Asian nations like Bangladesh, Cambodia and China. Will they finally remain there … or will they soon decamp to some other region of the globe?

The Swedish retailer Hennes & Mauritz (H&M) helped answer that question recently by announcing plans for a massive purchasing initiative from Ethiopian suppliers. Their commitment provided support to the emerging consensus that the African continent might represent the world’s next great success story of economic development and expansion.

To be sure, this trend isn’t solely the result of African progress. It can also be attributed to growing concerns about the manufacturing industry in Asia, including risks involving worker safety and corporate corruption.

Nevertheless, a significant shift of the world’s production economy towards Africa would undoubtedly help lift the fortunes of some of the world’s least developed economies. On the other hand, it would also place more pressure on the health of some of the world’s most endangered natural environments.

Such trends are an inevitable consequence of the continuing influence of globalization. As soon as the world’s clothing and textile manufacturers settle in any region, they immediately start looking for the next more desirable region!