Chains of production, ladders of protection: social protection for workers in the informal economy

Chains of production, ladders of protection: social protection for workers in the informal economy

Lessons learned from the horticulture and garment industries on social protection of informal workers

This book examines social protection for informal workers in the horticulture and garment industries and the working lives of people in the global value chain.

The studies suggest the need for including childcare and housing within the scope of social protection. With reference to the garment industry, it is noted that people’s homes are increasingly used as places of work, and that children are cared for simultaneously while productive work is carried out.

It is argued that the risks carried by workers differ for different industries. For example, workers in the horticultural sector are exposed to hazardous gasses, while workers in the garment industry often work in poorly ventilated and lit environments. In both cases, workers and their families are absorbing some of the costs of production, which would 'normally' be accepted as a legal responsibility of the employer.

While it is argued that a necessary condition for informal workers to get better access to social protection is through organising, it is also noted that there is often a fear among workers of organising for fear of losing work.

The need for a systematic and national-level collection of statistics about access to work-related social protection is also emphasised. This should be inserted into labour force surveys, as well as into living standards (including income and expenditure) surveys.

Sites for policy intervention include:

  • extension of the regulatory regime of labour standards to include workers in different categories
  • the conditions under which improvements in working conditions could be enhanced through constitutional or legal challenges should be further explored
  • integrating improved access to social protection within ethical codes of conduct
  • integrating the working poor within poverty reduction frameworks.

The studies suggest that new schemes of social insurance should work through an organisation of informal workers; that they should assertively explore the idea of co-responsibility of different interest groups; and that attention should be paid to building equal partnerships. A start could be made through a national or regional process of setting up dialogues between employers, formal and informal workers, government at local and national level, and interested and supportive organisations.

  1. How good is this research?

    Assessing the quality of research can be a tricky business. This blog from our editor offers some tools and tips.