The Lives of Workers in Ethiopia's Ready-Made Garment Industry

with Morgan Hardy

In this longer-term research program we study the broad impacts of Ethiopia’s ready-made garment industry on the lives of workers and their communtities. We build on close cooperations with factories, the Government of Ethiopia, and other partners. Most of our data collection is centered on the Government’s flagship industrial park in the city of Hawassa.


The Government of Ethiopia has embarked on an ambitious industrialization strategy based on the creation of special economic zones as centers of export-oriented light manufacturing. The flagship industrial park of this strategy is located in the city of Hawassa, in Ethiopia’s Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s (SNNP) Region. At full capacity, the Hawassa Industrial Park will provide employment to 60,000 workers from the wider region, most of whom will be women aged between 18 and 35. You can learn more about Hawssa Industrial Park in this Bloomberg Businessweek feature story.

Policy Relevance and Our Engagement

For the Ethiopian government, the Hawassa Industrial Park serves as a blueprint for the development of future parks in the country. Accordingly, we hope that the findings of our work can inform future industrial development policy in the country.

Given the tight integration with existing administrative data, we also hope to provide more immediate feedback loops that can inform Ethiopian policymakers at the local and federal level. Beyond Ethiopia, we hope that our evaluation can shed light on the implications of large-scale, location-specific development projects such as growth corridors, growth poles, industrial parks, on individuals and local communities. Fully quantifying the impacts of such programs is often challenging because generating counter-factual scenarios for such investments is complex, and full estimation of impact also requires an understanding of general equilibrium effects in various markets at the same time. With our project, we hope to make a step towards this understanding and thus inform wider development policy as well.

Hawassa Industrial Park factory sheds
Hawassa Industrial Park factory sheds (Photo: Enterprise Partners)

Projects and Papers

The Impact of COVID-19 on the Lives of Women in the Garment Industry

In a globalized world, pandemics transmit impacts through markets. In April 2020, we began fieldwork for high-frequency phone surveys on a panel of women who work in Hawassa Industrial Park to document how their lives are changing during the COVID-19 pandemic. We collect data on a representative sample of about 4,000 workers. Respondents will be interviewed on a regular basis for a duration of six months. Studied outcomes include socioeconomic status, employment, mental and physical health, health behaviors, empowerment, trust, and economic preferences. We plan to investigate the economic impacts of the COVID-19 crisis for this sample of women, and the interaction between health behaviors, trust in government, and economic preferences. We also hope to inform the government’s response and development partner programming by rapidly reporting key areas of vulnerability and their predictors.

Papers and Materials:

  • Meyer, Christian Johannes ⓡ Morgan Hardy ⓡ Marc Witte ⓡ Gisella Kagy ⓡ Eyoual Demeke. 2021. “The Market-Reach of Pandemics: Evidence from Female Workers in Ethiopia’s Ready-Made Garment Industry” World Development 137: 105179. (Published version | Working Paper)
  • Hardy, Morgan ⓡ Gisella Kagy ⓡ Eyoual Demeke ⓡ Marc Witte ⓡ Christian Johannes Meyer. 2020. “The Impact of Firm Downsizing on Workers: Evidence from Ethiopia’s Ready-Made Garment Industry” (Working Paper)
  • Baseline survey instruments and related materials


The Market-, Household-, and Individual-Level Impacts of Industrial Work: Evidence from Ethiopia’s Ready-Made Garment Industry

Relatively little is known about the impact of industrial employment opportunities on the economic, physical, and social well-being of workers and the largely rural, agricultural communities from which they are recruited. This project uses a large-scale cluster-randomized control trials to evaluate these impacts.

The study aims to use the expansion of hiring for Hawassa Industrial Park through a centralized, government-led system that integrates recruitment, registration, grading, and training of future workers. Our research design builds on this centralized system: We work with local partners to randomly assign communities to an already-planned expansion of recruitment for the park. We will complement existing administrative data with detailed primary household survey data that we are currently collecting.

Hawassa Industrial Park recruitment fair in one of our research areas (Dita woreda, Ethiopia)
Hawassa Industrial Park recruitment fair in one of our research areas (Dita woreda, Ethiopia)



We are grateful for generous funding from the International Growth Centre, New York University Abu Dhabi, the Private Enterprise Development in Low Income Countries (PEDL) research initiative of the Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) and the UK Department for International Development (DFID), the World Bank’s ieConnect for Impact program, and the World Bank’s “More, Better, and More Inclusive Jobs: Preparing for Succesful Industrialization in Ethiopia” program (funded by DFID).

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