Solidaridad has teamed up with Cotton made in Africa, Danish Ethical Trading Initiative and MVO Nederland to establish a new project aimed at promoting a sustainable value chain for Ethiopian cotton on its journey to European consumers. The EU-funded Bottom Up! initiative will be officially launched at Bahir Dar University as part of the ongoing Cotton, Textile & Apparel Value Chain in Africa event.

The main aim of the Bottom UP project is, by 2021, to form a value chain that can deliver business growth, improves working conditions, promotes labour and environmental standards, and responsible purchasing practices in the cotton and textiles relationship between Ethiopia and Europe.

Solidaridad points to the growing interest of international brands in sourcing garments from Ethiopia — with cotton being classified as the nation’s “second most important growth sector” — as a major opportunity for the nation to develop its apparel sector. This must, however, be undertaken and structured in a sustainable way, the Dutch NGO believes.

Training and technical support to cotton farmers, commercial farms and ginneries will be offered, designed to comply with sustainable industry practices and standards. Direct links between European brands and Ethiopian factories will also be established to aid dialogue and co-operative working.

Through Bottom Up! the afore mentioned collaboration will strive to build a “sustainable, transparent and inclusive” value chain. This, it is hoped, could benefit up to 2,000 cotton farmers, 2,200 rural workers and 17,000 garment workers in the African nation.

Solidaridad is not new to Ethiopia, having worked on initiatives in the country previously. This means the organisation is in no way naive to the challenges posed by such endeavours. One key limitation to achieving the project’s goals, Solidaridad foresees, is the lack of a minimum wage in Ethiopia. Reports from the country have claimed wages as low as $26 per month are paid to some workers, a figure well below the World Bank poverty line.