Making special economic zones (SEZs) work for decent employment in Africa
in partnership with International Labour Oragnization (ILO)
Session Type
Session Themes
Special Economic Zones
Room number
WIF Virtual Platform, room 2
Contact Email
21 October 2021
09:30 - 10:30 Europe/Zurich

Special economic zones in their various forms are expanding globally, especially in developing countries. According to UNCTAD estimates, there are more than 5,000 zones in the world with upwards of 90% of these in developing countries. Since many first-generation zones often pursued an investment attraction strategy centered on low wages and lax employment conditions, zones have been criticized for enabling the violation of worker rights across a range of dimensions. Although some newly created zones are going against this trend, widespread adaptation of decent employment standards in zones remains elusive.

Research by UNCTAD presents the economic case for zones to switch from a narrow focus on cost advantages to becoming champions of social responsibility and sustainable development. Yet follow-up research by ILO and UNCTAD shows that significant awareness raising and consensus building are still needed to transform SEZs into facilitators of decent work. The Handbook on Special Economic Zones in Africa, developed by UNCTAD, highlights best practices and puts forward policy recommendations on how to build development and sustainable oriented SEZs in Africa, particularly in light of the new trade and investment environment in Africa after the full implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area, which could pave the way for improving decent work outcomes.

This session will focus specifically on the role of zones in Africa with a panel discussion on how zones create decent jobs, attract investment, support youth employment, promote gender equality in the workplace and establish strong linkages that build stable and prosperous local communities outside the zone.

The main objective of this event will be to provide a forum for experts and participants to exchange views on policy measures which enable zones to derive value from adequate labor standards and decent wages. The summary document from deliberations will steer the development of a practical guide for policymakers with tangible steps on how to incorporate decent work in SEZs.

Issues to be addressed

  • What are the current approaches to integrating decent work into zone development objectives and operations?
  • How can decent work standards enhance efficiency of zone operations and attract more investors?
  • What are some of the best practices from SEZs around the world?


Executive Secretary, East African Trade Union Confederation
Deputy Director, Membership Services, Nigeria Employers' Consultative Association
Deputy CEO, Ghana Free Zones Authority
Commissioner, Ethiopian Investment Commission
Head Advocacy, Communications & Partnerships, Federation of Kenya Employers


Director, Enterprise Branch, International Labour Organization