Tackling informality in e-waste management: The potential of cooperative enterprises

The present paper is the product of a joint effort by the Sectoral Policies Department and the Cooperatives Unit of the International Labour Organization (ILO). This initiative supports the ILO’s commitment to promote forms of employment that safeguard the environment, eradicate poverty and promote social justice through sustainable enterprises and decent work, as reinforced by the international Labour Conference (ILC), at its 102nd session in June 2013.

Electrical and electronic waste (e-waste) is currently the fastest growing waste stream, and it is hazardous, complex and costly to treat. Adequate e-waste recycling can contribute to an environmentally sustainable economy, but that requires immediate improvements in job quality and incomes. Most of the world’s e-waste ends up in developing countries to be treated by informal workers. These workers are vulnerable to the health and environmental risks of e-waste, have little power to negotiate their working conditions and end up recovering a fraction of the recyclable material while contaminating themselves and the poor communities where informal e-waste recycling takes place. Therefore, improving occupational safety and health, upgrading skills, increasing workers’ incomes to fair and decent levels, and promoting the formalization of informal workers in this sector – along with other decent work strategies – is needed to promote sustainable development and better jobs in this growing sector. As a follow up to the working paper The global impact of e-waste: Addressing the challenge, this paper provides further insight on the e-waste sector, focusing on labour challenges and opportunities to leverage working conditions through the promotion of cooperatives and other social and solidarity economy organizations.