By Petronella Sibeene
Namibia’s experiences with Ramatex should act as a good lesson for the country when considering future investments, says the National Union of Namibia Workers (NUNW)’s deputy secretary-general, Erago-Thaddeus Erago.
Speaking at the launch of a book entitled “The Future of the Textile and Clothing Industry in Sub-Saharan Africa” Erago said while Ramatex made headlines that created a lot of expectations regarding development of infrastructure, employment creation and improved living conditions, the labour unrest at the factory compromised the high expectations that many employees have in investors.
Demonstrations against the management and the demands for better pay for thousands of workers were an indication that the socio-economic needs were not met.
Co-editor of the newly launched book Herbert Jauch said Ramatex employment practices are a true reflection of transnational corporations that prefer young women workers with “nimble fingers” and who are reluctant to join trade unions.
While the Namibian Government spent about N$120 million in public funds for the setting up of Ramatex infrastructure, Jauch argues that the money would have as well been used to kick-start other programmes or projects aimed at creating employment.
Ramatex has been under the spotlight for long with residents next to the factory complaining of polluted air and a stench from the chemicals in the factory.
Unionists have said the Government should hold Ramatex accountable for any environmental damages that might have occurred because of the company’s operations in the country.
It is believed that the area around Ramatex has been severely contaminated with dangerous chemicals and that their effluent cannot be taken into the Gammams water purification works.
Since no one seems to have taken the factory managers to task, Jauch says the lack of political will makes Namibia pay for Ramatex’s “sins”.
Jauch argued that the dynamics of the global textile industry and the special privileges for Ramatex now haunt Namibia. After spending huge amounts of public funds and tolerating avoidable and severe environmental pollution and forcing mostly young women workers to endure bad working conditions, Namibia faces a bleak scenario.
“The company will gradually phase out until it disappears completely,” he says.
The only way to get at Ramatex is to impound the machinery before they ship it out of the country. The company operates offshore accounts, he said.
Based on Namibia’s experience with Ramatex, some experts have argued that perhaps skills upgrading and increased productivity should be made conditional for foreign investment.