Ford Foundation to Fund “Informal Workers” Movement
The Ford Foundation announced a $ 25 million grant over five years to support and strengthen the global movement calling on governments at all levels to invest in protecting the 2.1 billion informal workers globally as a component central to economic recovery plans. This funding comes ahead of the 109e session of the International Labor Conference (ILC), where representatives of governments, employers and informal workers from 187 countries will discuss the issue of inequalities and the world of work.
Ford’s grant will support WIEGO (Women in informal employment: globalization and organization), a global network of research, policy and advocacy focused on empowering working poor, especially women, in the informal economy to secure their livelihoods. WIEGO will provide a new grant to global networks representing millions of informal domestic and home workers, street vendors and waste pickers in more than 90 countries. These informal workers have been on the front lines during the pandemic but have been devastated by the lack of social and labor protections during the crisis.
“We know there can be no global recovery without informal workers,” said Sarita Gupta, director of the Ford Foundation’s Future of Work (ers) program. “This grant recognizes the importance of ensuring that billions of informal workers have a seat at the table to make their voices, demands and needs heard nationally and globally, so that policymakers and business leaders recognize their contributions and their value. We are proud to support these networks of informal workers led by women who generate a global demand for social protection and work for more than half of the world’s workers.
Workers in informal jobs represent over 60% of the total global workforce and 90% of workers in developing countries. In the United States, one in five workers is employed informally. Globally, 58% of working women are engaged in informal employment, a figure that rises to 92% in developing countries.
Although the work of informal workers is the foundation of the global economy – including domestic workers providing intensive care; home workers producing clothing, electronics and personal protective equipment; street vendors selling food; and waste pickers recycling valuable materials – their work is neither regulated nor protected by the state, and they lack basic labor protections, social benefits and social security.
Informal workers have been largely excluded from COVID-19 emergency cash and in-kind transfers by governments, resulting in increased exposure to poverty, violence, hunger, homelessness and dead. As a result, the percentage of informal workers falling into poverty is estimated to have doubled in the first month of the crisis, from 26% to 59%. Those inequality impact the pace and sustainability of economic growth.
“As work has become increasingly precarious, informal and unsustainable, it is time to take greater account of inequalities in the world of work,” said Sally Roever, international coordinator of WIEGO. “This injection of funding will help WIEGO and our network partners advance cutting-edge research and launch a bold global call for a fair and inclusive economic recovery centered on informal workers. No one should work without fair pay and reasonable protections.
The lack of social protections and their human consequences were highlighted during COVID-19. In Durban, South Africa, for example, a WIEGO study found that in April 2020, during the heaviest lockdown restrictions, 97% of street vendors and 74% of waste pickers stopped working. By July, neither group had seen their income restored. In the Indian cities of Ahmedabad and Delhi, studies found that virtually no domestic workers were able to work during the first months of the pandemic, and average incomes fell to 25% from pre-COVID levels . Through 12 cities included in the studyIn mid-2020, the average incomes of informal workers in all sectors were only 55% of pre-COVID levels.
Millions of homeworkers in the garment industry have seen their orders come to a halt as brands refuse to pay for work already done. At the same time, they lacked a safety net in terms of health care, income or social protections, forcing many to resort to coping mechanisms that deplete their assets. Overall, earnings losses were greater for women than for men, regardless of their sector of employment. The updated results of The WIEGO study on 12 cities impacts of the pandemic on informal workers will be published in early December.
Even in the face of these challenges, networks of informal workers have made progress. This year in New York, thousands of street vendors pushed the city council to pass a law issuing 4,000 new permits for street food sales, raising the cap in place since 1983. In Argentina, informal workers’ unions were among those who asked for a seat at the table member of the country’s Emergency Social Committee, establishing increased food security for the working poor throughout the pandemic. In 2019, at the International Labor Conference, leaders of informal worker networks successfully lobbied for the adoption of Convention 190 on ending violence and harassment at work and putting in place protections for informal workers operating in public spaces or in private homes.
The grant to strengthen the work of these informal worker networks is funded by the Ford Foundation Social link. WIEGO partner networks that will receive support through this grant include:
- HomeNet International, representing 600,000 home workers through 36 subsidiaries in 20 countries. The 260 million homeworkers around the world manufacture, package and sell a wide variety of products, including electronics, clothing, shoes, food, auto parts and more. Homeworkers are on the ground floor of many global supply chains that are now on hold, increasing pressure on multinational companies to extend better protections to workers throughout their supply chains. The conditions of homeworkers remain an important but unresolved factor in the recovery of the supply chain.
- International Federation of Domestic Workers, representing 600,000 domestic and domestic workers across 84 affiliates in 65 countries. Domestic workers are also part of the invisible workforce that propels supply chains. Globally, 60 million domestic workers provide essential services like childcare and house cleaning so that others can show up to work outside their homes. Yet they can be fired on a whim – as countless were during the pandemic – and often have to tolerate abuse to keep their jobs.
- StreetNet International, representing 735,000 street and market vendors through 60 subsidiaries in 49 countries. They are the world’s grocery stores, providing food and essential goods to billions of people, including the vast global workforce in low-paying factory and service jobs. Although there is no definitive tally of street vendors, they are an integral part of urban economies. For example, they represent 11 percent of total urban employment in India and 15 percent in South Africa.
WIEGO and its member networks will be present at the 109th ILC session in November – organized under the theme “Equality in the world of work ”- on behalf of the millions of workers they represent. They will present a series of demands that include calls for universal social protections, freedom of association and collective bargaining and the implementation of ILO recommendation 204, Transition from the informal economy to the formal economy, including the principles of respect for the rights of informal workers as a starting point for any legal or regulatory action.