Social protection in the informal economy: home-based women workers and outsourced manufacturing in Asia

Social protection in the informal economy: home-based women workers and outsourced manufacturing in Asia

Social protection needs of women home-based workers in Asia

This paper draws on surveys carried out in five Asian countries (India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Thailand, and Philippines) where home-based work (HBW) is widespread. It examines characteristics of home workers and, in particular, conditions of women as home workers. The social protection needs of these women are also examined, and arguments in favour of public action to promote such work as a possible new labour-intensive growth strategy are presented.

The main findings emerging from the paper include:

  • in contrast to clustering theory’s low versus high road to development, the authors describe the experience of the five countries with subcontracting HBW as the ‘dirt road’ to development. While it does offer work to those not in the labour force, it brings no human development
  • to reach the low road of local system development, encouragement by the government of some cooperative action by home workers is needed
  • with the requisite support from governments in terms of social protection and promotive action, the inter-generational transfer of poverty and the low-capability equilibrium trap can be broken
  • value chain analysis indicates that home workers are working under exploitative conditions. The exploitation arises due to workers isolation, and their limited collective action
  • there is a strong case for providing community-based child care, so that the older girls can be freed from this care-giving responsibility
  • the low educational level of the home workers, and the health-related problems faced by them, indicate that without public interventions, the first synergy (between basic services) cannot be triggered in the case of these families
  • to ensure a rise in earning, collective action by the home workers and public interventions will be needed.

Some policy implications outlined in the paper include:

  • all workers should be registered
  • the same mechanism for protection proposed in the paper could also apply to the agricultural sector. Sector and product-group specific Welfare Funds, financed from a levy on the product, could be a way forward for all informal sector manufacturing activities
  • in the absence of formal worker organisations, the Welfare Fund can, in the interim, serve as the means for bringing home workers together, giving them specific issues around which to pressure and lobby those who control their lives
  • through the creation of cooperatives, the bargaining position of home workers would be strengthened
  • in terms of regional priorities, a national policy on HBW is needed in all five countries.
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