Gateway for Workers

Resources for workers and workers' organizations advocating for workers' rights in the informal economy.

Law and the Informal Economy: Better Laws Mean Better Workplaces

Everybody has the right to decent work. This right is protected under Article 7 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and many national constitutions.

But in many countries, workers in the informal economy face challenges above and beyond those confronting workers in formal sectors. These include:

  • barriers to information about the relevant regulatory frameworks
  • weak or non-existent protections for workplace safety, job security, social security, or other areas usually covered by labor law
  • laws that make it difficult for new workers to enter the market
  • discrimination based on other social characteristics, such as gender, race, or class

Informal workers are a valuable part of the economy and support workers in all sectors. Domestic workers allow others to work outside the home, especially other women. Street vendors provide affordable and convenient goods to urban shoppers. Waste pickers are an integral part of municipal sanitation systems.  And home-based workers make crucial contributions to many global and local supply chains.

In many places, though, the laws fail to accurately reflect the needs of informal workers and their customers.

In collaboration with WIEGO's partners─member-based organizations (MBOs), researchers, policymakers, and lawyers─we strive to provide information and strategies for developing laws that enable rather than hinder work in the informal economy.

We seek to provide information on both what good laws might look like, by identifying best practices and examples of successful regulation from around the world, and how MBOs and their members have successfully organized and mobilized for better laws.

Resources for Workers

The right sidebar includes links to resource pages for street vendors, domestic workers, waste pickers, home-based workers, and other sectors of the informal economy.

MBOs and workers can connect with one another through this searchable database of WIEGO's partner MBOs.Workers can learn more about laws from different countries through WIEGO's Law Observatory.

In 2013, WIEGO launched a series of Legal Briefs series, which describe the legal environment facing informal workers, and analyze legal strategies and precedent-setting cases that may lead to more secure livelihood. The first three briefs have analyzed legal and policy tools developed through informal worker advocacy in India, the right to information challenges facing informal workers worldwide, and the experience of street vendors who successfully organized to combat evictions in São Paulo, Brazil.

Organizing and Advocating for Worker-Centered Regulation of the Informal Economy

One of the biggest challenges in creating an enabling regulatory framework for the informal economy is that we don't always know what works and what doesn't. As a result, legal reform requires the willingness to experiment, negotiate, and periodically return to the drafting table. Throughout this process, it remains essential that stakeholders take a worker-centered approach to regulating the informal economy.

MBOs are crucial for ensuring that workers have a place at the negotiating table. And MBOs play a key role in ensuring that lawmakers are considering workers as they draft legislation.

You can encourage policymakers and the public to consider questions such as:

  • What economic pressures drive informal workers and their customers, and how can the law help people respond to economic pressures? 
  • What special vulnerabilities do informal workers face, and how can the law fill those gaps? 
  • How can the law be used to extend the protections that workers in the formal sector enjoy, such as social security, to informal workers? 

To this end, we encourage you to take advantage of the resources here and consider how you might use them for public advocacy, lobbying lawmakers and other stakeholders, and within-country and cross-border networking.