Rio + 20 Conference on Sustainability and People's Summit

June 2012

Informal Workers and Allies Raised their Voices in Rio

WIEGO and its allies participated in “RIO+20 – United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development” – and in the concurrent People’s Summit. In both arenas, we were striving to ensure the voices of informal workers were heard as world leaders came together to discuss informal workers and the green economy, sustainable development and the future of our planet.

US Secretary of State Clinton Calls for an Inclusive Economy that Meets Needs of Informal Workers

On the final day of the Rio+20 Summit, June 22, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for “an inclusive economy” that takes a new approach to how it recognizes the needs of workers in the informal economy. Secretary Clinton made the remarks as part of her plenary statement. She also cited recent World Bank research that found women are the key drivers of sustainable development.

".... the only prosperous, sustainable economy is an inclusive economy. That means we should think different about how we recognize the needs of workers in the informal economy, how we unleash the talent and energy of young people, and how we act on the compelling evidence most recently published by the World Bank that women are essential drivers of sustainable development..."

Hillary Rodham Clinton, June 22, 2012

Secretary Clinton made the remarks as part of her plenary statement. Read the full text of Hillary Rodham Clinton's remarks at Rio+20

Informal workers represent the majority of all workers, especially women workers, in the developing world. These workers include the street vendors and waste pickers who have been participating in Rio+20 and the concurrent People’s Summit.

The People’s Summit was an alternative space where thousands of social movements gathered in a park space near downtown Rio. Organized by activists from all over the world, the summit aimed to draw attention to what organizers call “greenwashing,” and to offer solutions that create real sustainable results.To champion their environmental contribution and stand against waste policies that are destructive environmentally and socially, hundreds of waste pickers attended from RedLacre (Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Uruguay) and from the Alliance of Indian Wastepickers (AIW). About 400 catadores from the Brazilian movement MNCR (Movimento Nacional dos Catadores de Materiais Recicláveis) also came to voice their issues.

For more detail, read One foot in the social movement, the other in the U.N. Convention Centre.

The waste pickers held educational events and created an inclusive recycling space, taking responsibility for all recycling at both Rio+20 and the People's Summit to showcase the importance of their work in dealing effectively – and sustainably – with waste.

Specfic Engagement

Schedule of waste picker activities

Speakers from different social movements and organizations spoke about the removal of street vendors, homeless populations, and waste pickers -- a trend that has been happening with increasing frequency as Brazil takes on mega-events such as the World Cup and the Olympics. The panel, “Resisting the Hygienization of Urban Centers," was organized by the National Movement of Waste Pickers in Brazil. 

WIEGO and several of its partners and allies helped Stree Mukti Sanghatana to organize an official Rio+20 event called “Zero Waste is Happening! Successes & Struggles for Real Sustainability” to demonstrate how grassroots recycling workers, visionary local leaders, and innovative practitioners are making zero waste an achievable goal. This event featured leading-edge practitioners from Brazil, India, the United States, and other countries where workers and environmentalists have come together to support truly sustainable approaches to waste and development. They presented their achievements in zero waste, countervailing forces, and will describe lessons they have learned to share with other communities.

WIEGO's International Coordinator, Martha Chen, attended Rio+ 20 as a civil society advisor on the US delegation. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinto also attended.

WIEGO’s Sector Specialist for Waste Pickers, Sonia Dias presented in a panel discussion on gender issues and the workplace, along with women waste pickers of the national movement and women of the landless workers’ movement.

Lucia Fernandez, Global Coordinator for Waste Pickers, took part in an Analysis of the Global Situation for Waste Pickers, and in a presentation against waste incineration and privatization.

The Global Anti-Incinerator Alliance (GAIA) launched publications that showcase zero waste case studies. See On the Road to Zero Waste

StreetNet, the international network of street vendor organizations, also took part in the Rio activities, protesting the global trend toward eviction of informal street vendors and the impact of mega-events (such as the World Cup to be held in Brazil in 2014) on their ability to work.

Visit the Global Alliance of Waste Pickers website to learn more about informal workers' activities in Rio.