Partnering with the private sector for Occupational Safety and Health in Ethiopia

H&M and the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) partner with ILO to invest in prevention

Article | 08 January 2020

This is a new era for me since I am just beginning my professional career."

Betelhem, a 23-year-old woman from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, is a recent university graduate, holding a Bachelors Degree in Chemical Engineering. She is a Safety and Corporate Social Responsibility Officer at the Ethiopian company SHINTS, which has more than 4,000 workers. She participated in trainings supported by the ILO through the project “Improving Industrial Relations for decent work and sustainable development of textile and garment industry in Ethiopia.”

The factory floor of a garment factory in Ethiopia, ©ILO Addis Ababa
As a safety and CSR officer, I am responsible for the safety and Health of workers; the work environment; and security issues of the company. I am the only staff member with this kind of responsibility in my department.

As bold and enthusiastic as I am, working in this position is overwhelming for a young graduate like me. I had taken a safety and health course in my university and also got orientation from my company on my responsibilities. SHINTS is a WRAP [Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production] certified factory. So in my orientation, I was introduced to WRAP 12 principles with a special focus on principle 8- Health and Safety; the Ethiopian law requirements on OSH among other subjects. The orientation was brief and more theory oriented, focusing on documentation and information management.

The support we received from this project was essential, and I personally have learned quite a lot from the continued discussion."

Of the ILO training, she notes that: 
We started with an OSH gap assessment followed by a pre assessment discussion and a walk through assessment that measured noise, light and temperature; assessed work environment and facility arrangements; and identified and photographed hazards. I was part of the whole process and I could see the theory and ideas I had learned about becoming more tangible.

Workers at a garment factory in Ethiopia, ©ILO Addis Ababa
The experiences of Betelhem and SHINTS were not unique within the project. Following ILO supported trainings, many workers from participating factories started wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), which they had previously avoided using. Trained OSH committees are now motivated and take their own OSH initiatives such as labelling their workplaces with safety signs, arranging storage space for PPE, and calculating the direct and indirect costs of workplace accidents, diseases and sick leave. Following the adoption of these improved OSH practices, participating factories now report fewer accidents in their workplaces.

 I consider myself lucky because I had been working for only three weeks when my engagement with ILO’s partnership began. Getting the chance to meet with a qualified and experienced staff on OSH and learning so many practical details was a world to me. The company has a formal OSH Committee registered with MOLSA [Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs] as per the requirements of the OSH directive. We developed a workplan to address the identified gaps. The project’s capacity building assistance helped us develop a customized OSH policy and procedures for SHINT.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) partnered with the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and H&M to implement the three-year project entitled “Improving Industrial Relations for Decent Work and Sustainable Development of Textile and Garment Industry in Ethiopia” in collaboration with tripartite constituents – from the Government as well as workers and employers organizations. The project worked to support the continued development of a socially sustainable textile and garment industry in Ethiopia through improved labour relations, productivity, wages and working conditions.