August 03, 2017

A market in the Chinese city of Lijiang. Credit: triplefivedrew / Flickr

If you listen to politicians, it may seem like America is losing its manufacturing jobs to China. If you’ve listened to our show before, you know that’s not the whole picture. Automation has taken many jobs, China isn’t the only manufacturing powerhouse, and even when jobs do move to China… they don’t necessarily stay there. In fact, some Chinese manufacturing is moving to an area of the world you might not expect: Africa. Irene Yuan Sun, author of the forthcoming book, The Next Factory of the World, has studied this shift, and she thinks that it’s a big deal.

Three Takeaways 

  • Only around 5 percent of Chinese manufacturing has moved to China, but that’s still huge for Africa, and it might only be the tip of the iceberg. Already, Lesotho, a tiny country in southern Africa has dozens of factories that produce clothing and apparel for Levi’s, Kohl’s, and Walmart.
  • There are downsides to this process, industrialization isn’t easy. It wasn’t easy in America and it wasn’t easy in America. There are major environmental issues, and this investment is happening in an area of the world without a strong tradition of labor advocacy.
  • Sun believes that Chinese investment could help Africa industrialize and lift some African countries out of poverty. America has been sending aid to Africa for years, but Chinese manufacturing might actually jumpstart African economies.

More reading 

Irene Yuan Sun, China, Business, innovation hub, Africa, pri, WGBH, Kara Miller

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