March 28, 2003

Problems loom for Lesotho's textile industry

Lesotho's textile industry, which has emerged as one of the most lucrative business sectors in the land-locked southern African kingdom, was facing water sustainability and labour problems, Engineering News reports in its latest edition.

Emerging labour militancy had risen in the face of a flouting of labour laws by some foreign investors, the magazine said. It quoted Andrew Gibbs, of the University of Natal's Centre for Civil Society, as saying that with 38 factories and 27 distinct operations, the textile industry was a key growth sector and attracted foreign direct investment in Lesotho.

However, only 11 percent of the kingdom's textiles industry was held in local hands. Taiwan was by far the single largest foreign investor with a 65 percent share. Taiwan was followed by Hong Kong (13 percent), South Africa (five percent), Singapore (three percent) and Israel (three percent). Large companies such as Nien Hsing, the CGM Group, Fancy Knitting and Shining Century all operated in Lesotho, the magazine reported, adding that water shortages in the textile industry could have serious repercussions on future investments.

The availability of water was crucial to the textile manufacturing process and one option would be to focus on waste-water recycling, which would "solve both supply and environmental concerns at once," the magazine said. Labour relations was another pressing issue which needed to be stabilised. Some factories tended to be contemptuous of Lesotho labour law and a strong union movement was beginning to emerge. (SAPA, Johannesburg)

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