Home-Based Workers


Although largely invisible, home-based workers produce for both domestic and global value chains across many industries and around the globe. Many home-based workers are subcontracted by firms or middlemen while others are self-employed. They may work in the new economy (assembling micro-electronics) or the old (weaving carpets).

To cut costs and maximize profits, firms outsource production to home-based workers. Advances in technology have facilitated the outsourcing of production. 

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Statistical Snapshot

Data on home-based workers have begun to improve in recent years, but challenges to counting this “invisible” workforce remain. According to Women and Men in the Informal Economy: A Statistical Picture (ILO-WIEGO 2013), home-based work accounts for 18 per cent of urban employment in India and 6 per cent in South Africa.

Other WIEGO-commissioned research found even higher estimates. In Nepal in 2008, about 30 per cent of all non-agricultural workers were home-based workers: nearly one-half of women in non-agricultural employment (47.6 per cent) compared to 21.6 per cent of men. (Read Statistics on Home-Based Workers in Nepal).

The vast majority of home-based workers most everywhere are women. For example, women account for 70 per cent in Brazil and 88 per cent in Ghana.

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The recent Informal Economy Monitoring Study (IEMS), coordinated by WIEGO, provides insight on home-based workers in Ahmedabad, India; Bangkok, Thailand; and Lahore, Pakistan. It reveals that home-based workers make significant contributions to their households, often helping keep them out of extreme poverty. They produce at low prices for domestic and global value chains and sometimes provide goods and services locally. They buy supplies, raw materials, and equipment—often paying taxes on these—and provide business to transport operators and other enterprises.

And by working from home, they play an important role in their communities and are able to care for children and the elderly and maintain the quality of family life.

See a summary of the IEMS findings on Home-Based Workers. 

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Home-based workers, on average, earn little – particularly those who are paid by the piece and depend on contractors or middlemen for work orders and payments. Both categories are impacted by irregular or cancelled work orders, an unreliable supply of raw materials, delayed payments, and rejected goods. Larger economic trends such as fluctuating demand and increases in input prices affect both groups, but particularly the self-employed.

When the home is the workplace, small, inadequate housing can lead to damaged goods and materials. Also, single-purpose zoning regulations can make home-based production illegal.

Isolation and invisibility make it difficult to organize home-based workers, while uncertain legal frameworks leave home-based workers without protection.

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More Information

See home-based workers News from around the world on WIEGO’s Global Monitoring System.