Lead Research Organisation: School of Oriental & African Studies
Department Name: Development Studies


The dramatic upsurge during the 2000s of Chinese investment (both public and private) in sub-Saharan Africa has sparked much discussion and controversy about its development impact. However, despite some recent advances in research, concrete evidence on this impact has remained limited.
This research will focus specifically on gathering concrete information on the employment effects of such investment. But this research will not confine itself to examining just Chinese FDI. It will also investigate the impact of the much broader category of what are called 'Chinese overseas contracted projects'. These initiatives, which include Chinese aid, have grown exponentially in recent years, and have often taken the form of construction projects.
In order to gauge the employment effects of such initiatives, firm-level and worker-focused surveys will be conducted in two sectors, construction and manufacturing, in two countries where such Chinese investment has been substantial, i.e., Angola and Ethiopia. Though Chinese firms have created more employment in construction in both countries, the recent increase in Chinese investment in manufacturing is particularly important because it could portend significant increases in higher-productivity jobs, which are in short supply throughout sub-Saharan Africa.
This research will assess the impact of Chinese investment in three specific areas: the employment, working conditions and skill development of national workers. Worker-level interviews will be important to the project because they will enable researchers to develop a more dynamic picture of the employment conditions of national workers. For example, the workers interviewed will be asked about their previous employment so that comparisons can be drawn with their current conditions in Chinese firms.
Moreover, such worker-level interviews will be utilized to identify workers who have left Chinese firms in order to secure new jobs in national firms or in self-employment. Such workers will subsequently be interviewed in order to determine whether their employment in Chinese firms was a springboard for improved future employment. Of particular concern will be the effect of employment in Chinese firms on training and general skill development.
This research project will also seek to compare employment conditions in Chinese firms in sub-Saharan Africa to the employment conditions of Chinese workers themselves in similar firms in China. This research will be carried out by both researchers in China and researchers in the United Kingdom who are China specialists.
But this aspect of the project's research will not be based on new surveys but on the gathering of all relevant available material on labour conditions in China and especially their recent evolution. Of particular concern will be the effect of recent trends in employment conditions and any changes in the policy of the Chinese government that could have influenced the conduct of Chinese firms investing in sub-Saharan Africa.
The intent of this research project is to have an important impact on the character of the ongoing debate on the development impact of Chinese firms located in sub-Saharan Africa. Particularly important will be the effect of our results on the policy stance of governments and regional development organizations in sub-Saharan Africa. But also one of the project's major objectives is to influence the character of the broader debate within the international development community on the employment effects of development cooperation, particularly within the context of the efforts to frame a new and more effective global post-2015 development agenda.

Planned Impact

This proposed project plans to have a broad impact not only on academic audiences but also on policymakers in national governments, regional organisations and international organisations as well as trade-union and NGO representatives. The focus of the research and related surveys is on employment conditions in Chinese firms in sub-Saharan Africa, specifically Angola and Ethiopia.
Thus, the project will seek to have an impact on national governments in Angola and Ethiopia, and indirectly on other national governments and on regional organisations in sub-Saharan Africa (as explained in the attachment 'Pathways to Impact'). The project also hopes to have an impact on how the Chinese government assesses its investment and development cooperation in sub-Saharan Africa, specifically with regards to employment-related policies.
The project plans to have such a proposed impact through various means and channels. One of the means is the six meetings that it will hold throughout its three-year duration. Two key Scoping and Stakeholder meetings will be held in Luanda and Addis Ababa early in the project in order not only to assess the viability of conducting representative firm-level surveys in these two countries but also to listen to, and take on board, the concerns of key stakeholders in each country.
There will also be three Dissemination meetings during the later stages of the project. These will be held in Luanda, Addis Ababa and Beijing. In these meetings the project hopes to have a significant impact on the thinking of key stakeholders and have some effect on the policymaking of the respective national governments. Lastly, there will be an important International Conference held in London towards the end of the project in order to reach a broad audience of stakeholders, including academics, government representatives, representatives of trade unions and other NGOs and representatives of international and regional development organisations.
In addition, project representatives will undertake trips to Geneva and Addis Ababa specifically in order to disseminate the project's research results and policy messages and interact with representatives of international organisations such as the ILO and with the African Union, the UNECA and other regional development organisations. The project will also attempt, in particular, to hold a meeting at DFID headquarters in London. Hopefully, the findings of the project will help to improve the prospects for trilateral cooperation among developed-country donors, China and African governments.
The project will make a special effort to reach a broad audience of interested academics who do research in areas linked to the focus of the project (as explained in the section on Academic Beneficiaries). The intent is to draw on the publication of at least ten research papers, including on topics related to employment conditions in China itself as well as in Angola and Ethiopia. Additional efforts will be undertaken to publish such research results in a special journal issue and at least one book publication.
For a broader audience interested in development issues, the project will utilize the vehicle of the Centre for Development Policy and Research (CDPR) at SOAS to publish Research Briefs and Discussion Papers. In addition, CDPR will attempt to disseminate Policy Briefs and Development Viewpoints, which are short, easily readable publications that can reach a broad development audience. The Policy Briefs are intended to reach policymakers in national governments, regional organisations and international organisations. Taken together, there will be at least six CDPR publications (across the four kinds of formats).
The legacy of the project will be promoted by setting up a special website, as well as depositing project publications within the CDPR website.


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Description Institutional Partnerships for project ESRC-DFID ES/M004228/1 
Organisation Ethiopian Economic Association (EEA)
Country Ethiopia, Federal Democratic Republic of 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution The EEA-EEPRI in Ethiopia and the FEC-UAN in Angola will work with SOAS in the implementation of surveys and qualitative research for the above-mentioned project
Collaborator Contribution EEA-EEPRI and FEC-UAN will primarily contribute with background research on target sector as well as with support to implement surveys
Impact No outputs thus far, until reports and surveys are completed
Start Year 2015
Description Riding the Dragon: Africa engages with China Workshop - SOAS 12-13 November 2015 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact This workshop brought together leading scholars currently working on field-based research about engagement of Chinese companies and state actors in Africa. The workshop was an opportunity to present our project and plans as well as the key research questions and methodological options
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015