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October 26, 2021

Ethiopia crisis sparks concern in US apparel industry over sourcing relationship

US footwear and clothing brands are urging the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed, to resolve the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the country, warning the sourcing relationship between the two is under threat.

By Hannah Abdulla

Steve Lamar, president and CEO of the American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA), addressed his concerns on behalf of the industry about the humanitarian crisis in Tigray and nearby regions in a letter to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

In the letter dated yesterday (25 October), Lamar said the AAFA’s members invest, produce and source from suppliers in Ethiopia and that their investment and business decisions are always grounded on “solid and demonstrated” human rights.

“These investments provide significant opportunities for supply chains that create and sustain responsible employment. With that investment, there can be no hesitancy to ensure the values are fully embraced by our partners – including our government partners – match our own perspectives.”

He said this had been the case in Ethiopia for many years and the joint efforts between the two countries allowed many to be lifted out of poverty and d supported sustainable economic opportunities for Ethiopian households and communities.

But ongoing violence and unrest in Tigray is threatening that relationship with reports of humanitarian workers being blocked, harassed, and killed and civilian populations being terrorised.

In September, US president Joe Biden passed an Executive Order urging parties to the conflict to halt their military campaigns respect human rights, allow unhindered humanitarian access, and come to the negotiating table without preconditions. He also said Eritrean forces must withdraw from Ethiopia.

As part of the Executive Order, a new sanctions regime was established targeting those responsible for or complicit in the conflict and preventing a ceasefire.

It also sees Ethiopia’s access to the African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA) preferential trade scheme come under possible threat.

US Trade Representative Katherine Tai has said the US would “soon” decide on the status of Ethiopia under AGOA, which gives its apparel exporters duty-free access to the United States. Tai referred to fighting in northern Ethiopia and reports of deepening famine in Tigray, stating: “What is happening in Ethiopia is a humanitarian crisis.”

But the region’s clothing suppliers remain seriously concerned that it could be stripped of the benefit, Just Style has been told.

In his letter to the Ethiopian Prime Minister, ­­­­Lamar stated the tragedy in Tigray and nearby regions must be stopped.

“The humanitarian crisis must be solved and those who can best bring aid and relief need critical access. The ongoing violence and strife urgently needs to be replaced by a ceasefire and talks from all sides that can lay the basis for lasting peace. But until that happens, it is absolutely vital that all parties ensure the immediate resumption of humanitarian aid to the people who have been most affected by this crisis. News reports indicate that the United Nations and governments around the world have found their aid shipments blocked. This is unacceptable and completely inconsistent with our values and expectations.

“We urge you to lead by example, making sure your government does everything in its power to see that relief supplies flow unimpeded.”

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