Law & Informality: Past Activities

Street Vendors in Thailand - Paula Bronstein/Getty Images Reportage

Engaging in Global Agenda-setting Processes

For example, in 2016, we participated in the United Nations Secretary General’s High Level Panel (UN HLP) for Women’s Economic Empowerment, which was created to define an actionable agenda for improving economic outcomes for women in the context of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. WIEGO’s Law Programme produced a policy brief on Eliminating Legal Barriers from the Perspective of the Informal Economy, participated in roundtable discussions and regional consultations, and served on the working group on legal barriers. The World Bank’s 2017 Law, Justice and Development week’s ‘key messages’ included four key points from the UNHLP WEE working group on legal barriers, including:

  • create an enabling legal environment for informal (and agricultural) workers
  • extend workers’ rights and entitlements
  • recognize rights to secure housing and land tenure
  • recognize rights to accessing public space, raw materials, natural resources, transport and basic infrastructures and services.

ILO Recommendation 204 concerning the Transition of the Informal to the Formal Economy

Together with the Organization and Representation Programme, the Law Programme is supporting informal workers’ MBOs in Malawi and South Africa to implement R204. Learn about this work in Malawi.

Evaluating the potential of existing governance mechanisms to protect homeworkers

The Global Labour University, a network of trade unions, universities and the International Labour Organization (ILO), commissioned WIEGO’s Law Programme to evaluate existing governance mechanisms to determine whether and how well they might protect homeworkers. At an October workshop in Kathmandu, (sponsored by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung), a paper by Law Programme Director Marlese Von Broembsen was workshopped with trade unions, the Trade Union Advisor to the OECD, and homeworker organizations from Cambodia, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), which represents 168 million workers, successfully argued for an update to the ILO’s MNE Declaration (concerning multinational enterprises and social policy) to incorporate the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The MNE and OECD processes are defining, in very concrete terms, what brands must do to (a) identify human rights abuses; (b) protect vulnerable workers in their supply chains from abuses; (c) prevent abuses and if they do happen, mitigate their effect; and (d) report how abuses in supply chains are being addressed. It is crucial for organizations that represent homeworkers to be involved in establishing these responsibilities. The Nepal workshop was the first step in this process.

Legal change for domestic workers in Mexico

In 2017, we organized a Latin American regional exchange of domestic workers. Over 30 domestic workers from Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Jamaica and Uruguay met in Mexico City to share experiences and discuss strategies on social security legislation and ratification of C189 (ILO Convention 189 on Domestic Workers). Workers subsequently developed and delivered a platform of demands to the Mexican Senate on March 29th, Domestic Worker day in Latin America.

WIEGO’s 'Law Project' in five countries between 2006 and 2014

Building Capacity among Informal Worker Leaders

One important objective of the Law and Informality Project was to build the capacity of informal worker leaders, especially women, to understand and engage in advocacy and negotiation for legal change. After pilots in India and Colombia, the project rolled out in Ghana, Peru, and Thailand between 2010 and 2013 and was extended to India and South Africa in 2014.

Country Projects


In Ghana in 2011, the Law and Informality Project partnered with the Ghana Trade Union Congress (GTUC) to identify the legal issues and demands of domestic workers, headloaders, and street vendors. The GTUC and WIEGO also analyzed court decisions, which revealed the negative judicial attitudes towards informal workers. These attitudes were attributed to the criminalization of informal trading in undesignated spaces and a limited understanding of the contribution of informal work and the circumstances under which informal vendors work.

Following consultations with workers, the GTUC and a group of legal experts critiqued the draft Regulation on Domestic Workers and suggested amendments to a National Taskforce on Domestic Workers, which was established by the government. Meetings were held with the Accra Municipal Authority (AMA) on the protection of street vendors’ basic rights. The legal experts identified a need to amend the AMA bylaw on street vending in order to designate specific streets for specific days for street vending. To help minimize the harsh sentences meted out by magistrates, the project engaged with magistrates who committed to implement the Ghana TUC’s recommendations when dealing with cases concerning vendors.
In 2014, the focus of the project turned to building the capacity of street vendors and domestic workers to engage with legal issues and, through a public campaign, to raise awareness of their need for rights and protection as workers.


In 2014, WIEGO’s Law Project partnered with the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) in India, a trade union of nearly 2 million women informal workers, to identify the legal and policy demands of women domestic workers, home-based workers, street vendors and waste pickers, and build their capacity to engage with legal issues. The program focused on five cities and held consultation meetings and capacity building workshops in each city. Domestic workers focused on relevant national and state legislation, the ILO’s Convention 189, and the rights of migrant domestic workers. Home-based workers focused on the ILO’s Convention 177 to help identify points that should be included in a national policy on home-based workers. Vendors focused on understanding and strategizing around the new Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vendors) Act, 2014.

In the case of waste pickers, WIEGO, in partnership with organizations such as Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat (KKPKP), organized a national consultation of waste pickers with key stakeholders to develop a public policy around waste picking that includes waste pickers. The outcome of this consultation was the National Policy for Ensuring Decent Livelihoods in the Recycling Industry. The policy included issues such as access to waste and decent working conditions. Although the policy was not officially adopted, the text has been used by several advocacy groups to help waste pickers take advantage of opportunities in existing systems. An important part of the discussion concerned the lack of a law that includes waste pickers in the public waste collection service.


In Peru, WIEGO partnered with Instituto Sindical de Cooperación al Desarrollo (ISCOD), a Spanish trade union cooperation agency that works with informal workers. PLADES (Programa Laboral de Desarrollo), a labour NGO, also played a role in building the capacity of worker leaders from various organizations, including domestic workers, market porters, street vendors, and waste pickers. ISCOD and WIEGO developed training modules and weekly courses on organizational skills, and on laws affecting particular groups. Creative materials and a background paper on law and the informal economy in Peru, along with a website in Spanish which detailed the laws for each sector, gave informal workers the resources to be more aware of their rights.

In May 2014, WIEGO supported 150 street vendors’ associations in achieving an important milestone: Lima passed a new ordinance for downtown that governs how vendors may sell their goods and services in a public spaces.

In the case of waste pickers, WIEGO did a study called, “Implementation of the law that rules the activities of waste pickers at the local level and its regulation”. In contrast to India, Perú has a specific law that includes waste pickers in the public service and establishes decent work conditions for them. But, because of Peru’s political system, it is not mandatory for municpalities to implement the the general law regulating waste pickers. Nevertheless it provides a progressive legal framework for those municipalities that choose to implement it.

South Africa

In South Africa, our partner, the Social Law Project (SLP), which is based at the University of the Western Cape, worked with domestic workers, and with street vendors unions and associations. The Social Law Project has a long history of supporting domestic workers (see D. du Toit, ed., Exploited, Undervalued – and Essential: Domestic Workers and the Realisation of their Rights).

The laws and regulations impacting domestic workers and street vendors are summarized in two reports. The project held interactive consultations and capacity building workshops with the two groups. Based on the inputs of the two groups, worker education materials (manuals, posters, and leaflets) were developed for the organizations.


In Thailand, WIEGO and our partner, HomeNet Thailand, focused on the legal empowerment of both home-based workers and  domestic workers as well as contract farmers and street vendors.
HomeNet Thailand, with the support of WIEGO, successfully campaigned for the Homeworkers’ Protection Act, which entitles Thai homeworkers to minimum wages, occupational health and safety protection, and other fundamental labour rights. Read more about this campaign.

The Law Project subsequently examined obstacles to implementing these protections and developed a set of case studies that showed instances where homeworkers had attempted to access their rights. Homeworker leaders and homeworkers learned about their rights through workshops with lawyers and government officials and through posters, newsletters, and other documents. The capacity building program has enabled women home-based worker leaders to demonstrate their knowledge and abilities. Some leaders were eventually elected to the Home Workers Tri-partite Committee, an institutionalized participatory forum estalished  under the provisions  of the Home Workers Protection Act to help ensure the implementation of the Act.

With domestic workers, capacity-building programmes included a focus on the ILO Convention on Domestic Work (C189) and helped mobilize workers to take action to protect migrant domestic workers in the country. During the course of the Law Project, the Thai Domestic Workers Network was formed, which participated in pressuring the government to pass the 2012 Ministerial Regulation for Domestic Workers. (See which countries have ratified C189.) 

Formalizing the Informal Economy

A major debate relating to law and the informal economy is the question of whether, and how, to formalize the informal economy. Through WIEGO’s Organization and Representation Programme, the WIEGO Network brought together informal workers in three regions to draft a platform of demands that articulates what it means for informal workers transitioning from the informal economy to the formal economy. A delegation of workers and WIEGO members participated in the discussions at the International Labour Conference in June 2014, which culminated in Recommendation 204 concerning the Transition from the Informal to the Formal Economy. Read more

Informal Economy Theme