ILO celebrates the International Day of Cooperatives by focusing on workers in the informal economy

The United Nations’ International Day of Cooperatives (IDC) is held annually on the first Saturday of July. For this occasion, the ILO organised an event, recognizing the theme of the 2017 IDC, “cooperatives leave no one behind”, with a focus on the role and potential of cooperatives and other social and solidarity economy organizations and enterprises providing a pathway to formalization for those working in the informal economy. The event was also an opportunity to launch a new report by the ILO and WIEGO, titled “Cooperation among workers in the informal economy: A focus on home-based workers and waste pickers”.

News | 04 July 2017
Mr Vic Van Vuuren, Director, ENTERPRISES department, ILO
Mr Vic Van Vuuren, the Director of the ILO’s Enterprises Department opened the event highlighting the importance of the values and principles of social and solidarity economy in general and cooperatives in particular toward achieving poverty reduction and sustainable development. He further stated that cooperatives are well-placed to support formalization efforts of those working in the informal economy.

Simel Esim, the Head of the Cooperatives Unit at the ILO then presented the main findings of the ILO-WIEGO report on cooperation among home-based workers and waste pickers. The findings demonstrate how cooperatives and other forms of economic organizing benefit the workers by providing market access as well as various forms of training on technical, legal and advocacy skills, among others. Furthermore, cooperatives provide voice and recognition to the workers in the informal economy, particularly in negotiations with both buyers and intermediaries as well as with government at different levels for social benefits and improved conditions. At the same time, these cooperatives face numerous challenges related to markets, policies and internal issues, which will still need to be overcome to further improve the situation of the workers and to support their transition to the formal economy. The summary of key findings is available here, with the full report to be published shortly.

Ms Sonia Dias, Waste Specialist, WIEGO
Then, WIEGO’s waste specialist Sonia Maria Dias presented the case of waste picker organizations in Brazil, and particularly in the city of Belo Horizonte. There, since 1988 when the work for the organization of waste pickers commenced, their cooperatives have formed an integral part of the formal municipal waste collection system. Cooperatives have a social function through their poverty reduction capacities, but also they play environmental and public health functions. Ms Dias noted that one of the main challenges waste pickers continue to face is stigma and exclusion, leading to challenges on their identification as being workers. Ms Dias further pointed out that in order for the workers to be able to work together for common objectives, building trust is a major requirement – with no trust between the workers and other stakeholders in the waste chain, the impact of cooperatives both for the workers and for the waste management chain is more limited.

In the ensuing discussion, Ms Dias emphasised the need for an integrated approach to formalization of the workers in the informal economy, where waste pickers can work and be treated as workers already prior of having a formal status. She highlighted the role of both national and local governments through the provision of an enabling environment, and how cooperatives help break the challenges waste pickers face to their livelihoods, recognition and rights. Finally, Ms Dias stressed the role of cooperatives in monitoring and preventing child labour in waste management – the best way of getting children away from the waste dumps to education is through the integration of cooperatives in the municipal waste management systems.