GUANGZHOU: Chairman of Huajian Group Huarong Zhang, whose Chinese factories make shoes for Ivanka Trump, Nine West, Michael Kors and other Western brands, plans to create 100 000 jobs in Africa over the next two decades.
Zhang made the undertaking to journalists from 27 African countries during a recent tour of the company’s headquarters in Dongguan, China.
This week Zhang also brokered a $ 1.5billion deal (R20bn) with the Nigerian government to build a shoe factory there.
According to Nigerian media, the Abia State-Huajian Shoe Industrial City, which will be located in Aba, will produce 5 000 shoes a day and employ about 10 000 people directly
Zhang said a large number of African countries had great untapped potential. “But investors are looking for political stability, security and protection of property. Many African countries are opening up and have made remarkable achievements on the economic front.”
Huajian already has a shoe factory in Ethiopia. Zhang set up the plant near the country’s capital, Addis Abba in 2011. It is part of an industrial zone, still under construction, with a total investment of $2bn by 2020. It manufactures more than 2 000 pairs of shoes a day that are exported to the US and European markets.
In Dongguan, journalists toured the compound which houses a shoe factory and staff living quarters. Staff put in 10-hour days, six days a week. Some earn about $400 for shoes that typically sell for at least $100 a pair in the US.
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Workers along the conveyor belt were busy hammering parts, gluing material, polishing soles and packaging. Among the Chinese staff were a group of Ethiopians who will spend a year learning the trade.
Zhang said 150 Ethiopians were being trained at his factory in China and he hoped to increase the number to between 1 000 to 2 000 in the future.
“I think workers from Africa work well it is great for Ethiopia’s future.”
The factory uses raw material from Ethiopia (50%), China (20%) and other countries (30%). Staff get paid between $75 to $95 and management between $500-$1 000. This was well above Ethiopia’s government stipulated minimum wage of between $15 to $20.
Zhang said Huajian produces 12 million pairs of shoes each year, mostly high end brands for European and US markets.
The company’s annual turnover, in China as well as Ethiopia, was $300 million.
Zhang grew up poor. He started Huajian with a staff of 18 and with only three sewing machines. Today his company is an international success story.
“I am diligent and passionate about my work. Last year, I travelled to Ethiopia 14 times, that is almost 22 days on a plane. I love this company, care about my staff and I am enthusiastic about this country.”
Zhang said the company was privately owned.
The Chinese government supported Huajian’s plans, but had not invested money in the company, not even in its Ethiopian operation.
He believed China’s Belt and Road initiative would be a stimulus for the world economy. It would benefit many of the countries involved in the new Silk Road, including those in Africa.