Uganda’s main advantages, for the moment, are cheap cotton and labour, and preferential access to American and European markets. When exporting to the rich world “Africa has an 18-35% duty advantage over any other continent”, says Nick Earlham, a shareholder in WUCC and in Fine Spinners. “It’s very competitive.” Textile workers in Kampala earn about $85 a month, compared with $150 in Kenya and $108 in Vietnam, never mind up to $700 in China. But these savings are offset by problems in almost every other sphere. Power cuts keep plunging the factory into darkness, and an erratic supply of steam to the dyeing machines makes it hard to ensure that each batch of fabric looks alike. In a cramped meeting room alongside the factory, executives of Bonprix visiting from Europe make their unhappiness clear. Their inspectors in Hamburg are discovering more defects than they would like, and one big shipment of T-shirts will be unexpectedly late. “What would happen if this item was on the cover of our catalogues?” one asks.
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