SOAS University of London

Industrial Development, Construction & Employment in Africa

Background and Comparative Research

To provide background and context we conduct targeted desk-based research on labour practices and employment trends in similar firms and sectors in China. This comparative research is carried out both by researchers in China and by China specialists in the United Kingdom. In contrast to the field data collection, this part of the project is based on existing data and will not entail new field research in China. Instead we draw on the available material on labour conditions in China and especially their recent evolution, as well as targeted interviews with key informants and sector and labour specialists. Of particular concern is the effect of recent trends in employment conditions and any changes in the policy of the Chinese government that could have influenced the conduct of Chinese firms investing in sub-Saharan Africa.

One important research question we pursue is how foreign firms adapt to new national contexts with different legislation, institutions and labour practices. This is particularly important in the case of manufacturing, since the potential for a move of certain industrial sectors from more industrialised countries, especially in Asia, to low-income countries with good conditions for light labour-intensive manufacturing seems, for the moment at least, to be growing.

In addition to this desk work, more background research was conducted on broad foreign direct investment and infrastructure contracting trends in Africa, and specifically in Angola and Ethiopia, with a focus on the last ten years. Background papers on such trends as well as on the broad dynamics of ‘go out’ strategies of Chinese firms were drafted to inform the comparative framework of the primary research. The research team also undertook an exhaustive overview of research conducted on employment issues in Chinese firms in Africa, in order to identify key evidence gaps and to gather data and insights from research contributions on other countries and sectors in Africa. Finally, our research partners in Ethiopia and Angola also contributed with focused background research on the dynamics of the target sectors (manufacturing and construction), foreign direct investment trends and labour market contexts in these countries. This allows us to situate our primary research findings against the background of broad structures, trends and outcomes known from secondary data.