LONDON (Reuters) - Tesco, the world’s third-largest retailer, expects to source more clothes from Ethiopia, but wants the nascent industry there to uphold high ethical standards as global chains seek to prevent factory disasters like those seen in Bangladesh.
“Ethiopia is a very exciting potential country to grow a supply chain but needs to grow up to be a well regulated, ethical new industry,” Giles Bolton, ethical trading director at Tesco, told the Retail Week Live conference on Wednesday.
Hennes & Mauritz, the world’s second-biggest fashion retailer, said in January it saw good opportunities for producing clothing in sub-Saharan Africa, as it seeks to diversify from relying on Asian sourcing.
The Swedish company is one of the biggest buyers of garments from Bangladesh, where the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory last April killed more than 1,100 people, drawing global attention to the poor conditions in many Asian factories.
Bolton said he hoped Ethiopia could blaze a trail in Africa in garment production, which he said could be a major driver of economic development for the continent as it has been in Asia.
Britain’s Tesco has already placed initial orders from factories in Ethiopia and Bolton said he had recently met with the country’s ministers of industry and labour to make sure the development of the sector was well regulated.
“We see that as strongly in our business interest to take that long-term view,” he said. “It’s fundamentally important to customers who want to be confident that everything they buy has not been sourced in poor conditions.”
Tesco is among 150 clothing brands and retailers working together to improve safety in the Bangladesh garment industry, with initial inspections published this week revealing serious safety problems at many factories.
Election-related violence in recent months has disrupted Bangladesh’s clothing industry, the world’s second biggest after China, while a shutdown by striking garment workers in Cambodia, another big supplier, has further squeezed global fashion firms.
Reporting by Emma Thomasson; Editing by Mark Potter