Homeworkers Organizing for Economic Empowerment

From 2019-2022, the Home-based Workers Organizing for Economic Empowerment Project will help homeworkers who belong to membership-based worker organizations improve their earnings and the conditions of their work. 

Homeworkers — also known as subcontracted outworkers — are an essential part of domestic and global value chains. This global project is designed to help homeworkers who belong to membership-based worker organizations improve their earnings and the conditions of their work. 

The primary aims of the global Home-based Workers Organizing for Economic Empowerment Project are:

  • to support learning and collective action for women leaders from home-based worker organizations—including homeworkers in the garment sector—that contributes to the goal of establishing a global network
  • to empower homeworkers so they can effectively fight economic discrimination, which is often gendered, and secure decent work

The project will achieve its aims by:

  • strengthening the reach and global solidarity of home-based worker organizations at regional and national levels;
  • engaging a broad base of civil society actors (e.g. NGOs, trade unions) to ally with home-based worker organizations and support their issues and demands;
  • creating opportunities for exposure, learning, and connection for women home-based workers at local, regional and global levels, through national meetings and trainings (in Africa and South Asia), global meetings (Global Garment Summit and Home-based Worker Networking Meeting), and local engagements (mapping exercises in Ethiopia and Kenya);
  • ensuring that women home-based workers have an active voice and increased capacity to lead on issues affecting their lives and livelihoods.

The project aligns with the Sustainable Development Goals: SDG 5, Gender equality, and SDG  8, Decent Work and Economic Growth.

Global Garment Sector Strategy

Because of the prevalence of homework in the garment industry, the project includes a Global Garment Sector Strategy.  In March 2020, WIEGO, HomeNet South Asia and HomeNet South East Asia will convene a meeting in Bangkok. The meeting will include HomeNet leaders and affiliates who organize homeworkers, as well as trade unions and civil society organizations that work in the garment sector.

Garment Workers and COVID-19

WIEGO joined a demand for global brands in the fashion industry to extend a one-time Supply-chain Relief Contribution to all garment workers during the COVID-19 crisis. Workers include time-rated, piece-rated, subcontracted and home workers.

Homeworkers in the Garment Industry

Women’s paid work, especially in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, is largely informal. Informal work is characterized by low pay and a lack of social and legal protection. It is most often unregulated.

Home-based workers make goods and provide services from in (or near) their homes. While some are self-employed and have direct access to markets, homeworkers are piece rate workers who are sub-contracted by factories and may receive orders through intermediaries. They produce for both domestic and global value chains (and may not even know what firm they are producing for). 

Homeworkers represent the bottom rung in labour intensive, competitive industries such as the garment and footwear sectors. Their work is vital to international brands, but they are typically paid below any national minimum wage, while absorbing a range of production costs and risks.

The specific terms and conditions of work for homeworkers vary across localities, supply chains, and cultural contexts. However, homeworkers everywhere face common issues:

  • Low piece rates — much lower than what factory workers earn in the same supply chains.
  • poor health and safety conditions
  • Many costs of production, including workplace, utilities, equipment and transport.
  • Financial risks associated with production such as delayed or cancelled orders, rejected goods, and delayed payments.
  • Irregular work hours, characterized by alternating periods of low-income earning and sudden, heavy workloads and rushed deadlines.
  • Lack of social protection (even for those “contractors” engaged in “disguised” employment) such as social security contributions, maternity benefits, sick leave or workers’ compensation.
  • Lack of legal protection under national labour laws; even in countries that have ratified the ILO Home Work Convention (C177) and/or have national legislation to protect homeworkers (e.g. Thailand, Bulgaria), laws that would give homeworkers similar rights as formal workers are not enforced.'
  • Occupational health and safety risks due to working in cramped, unventilated quarters (where dust and chemicals pose greater problems) and without appropriate infrastructure.

In 2016, WIEGO Network members collaborated to develop Decent Work for Homeworkers in Global Supply Chains: Platform of Demands, which sets out the key issues and challenges faced by homeworkers and their demands for improved working conditions, rights and decent work. Home-based worker leaders then participated in the discussion at the International Labour Conference (ILC) on decent work in global supply chains. 

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RESOURCES FOR GARMENT WORKERS & ORGANIZATIONS

Working in Garment Supply Chains: A Homeworker’s Toolkit – South Asia (HomeNet South Asia, 2020)

How Homeworkers Can Use the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains in the Garment and Footwear Sector (WIEGO, 2020)

RESEARCH AND ADVOCACY TOOLS

Organizing toward a Global Network

Homeworkers can be challenging to organize as they work in isolation. Inside their homes they are invisible — overlooked as contributors to the economy and misidentified in official statistics. Yet home-based workers have organized themselves into trade unions, cooperatives, associations, producer companies, and networks at national and regional levels.

In South Asia, organizing has a rich history, starting from the formation of India’s Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) in the 1970s. Today, regional “HomeNets” connecting member-based organizations (MBOs) of home-based workers include HomeNet South Asia, HomeNet Southeast Asia, HomeNet Eastern Europe, and a homeworker “Coordinadora” in Latin America. In Africa, a loose network of home-based worker organizations has begun coming together. 

However, organizing is at different stages in different regions; regional disparities in capacity reduce the negotiating power of home-based workers globally. An international network would provide much-needed opportunities for exchange of knowledge and learning.

Knowledge and Capacity Building

Stronger democratic organizations and increased knowledge about value chains, legal frameworks and negotiating skills are essential to improving conditions for home-based workers. This project will both build knowledge and capacity

Research and information will be disseminated in multiple formats (links will be found here in the future).

Project Partners

Launched as a partnership between WIEGO’s Law Programme and Organizing & Representation Programme and HomeNet South Asia (HNSA), the project is drawing on the strength of the regional networks named above, as well as growing organizations in eastern Africa.

Allies include the Clean Clothes Campaign, a global alliance dedicated to improving working conditions and empowering workers in the global garment and sportswear. WIEGO is a member of the CCC and is working with this ally to co-strategize and leverage both efforts on empowering homeworkers in the sector’s global supply chains.

Funding for this project was provided by the UK Department for International Development - Work and Opportunities for Women (WOW) Fund.

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