Economic and Social Contributors
Home-based workers are a critical and yet largely invisible part of lucrative local and global value chains. They produce goods – from traditional garments to micro-electronics – and provide services – from preparing food to doing laundry.
Home-based workers make significant contributions to their households, to society, and to the economy. They:
- generate income for their households at the same time they care for children and the elderly
- provide goods and services at a low cost to low-income people and to the general public
- produce goods at low prices for domestic and global value chains
- pay taxes on the raw materials, supplies, and equipment they purchase.
Home-based workers are generally excluded from urban policies and plans. They face exploitative value chain practices. They are particularly affected by the macroeconomic environment, especially by fluctuations in demand and prices.
Because many home-based workers live in slums, the lack of basic infrastructure services also greatly affects their work:
- power outages and load shedding impact their ability to produce while contractors penalize them for missing deadlines
- inadequate access to clean water and sanitation services lead to illness and reduced production hours if workers’ time is exhausted in water collection
- the high cost of public transport leads to losses for those who must travel to source supplies or deliver finished goods
- the poor quality of housing, sewer systems and road infrastructure means materials and equipment are prone to damage from flooding.
Working with Cities, Benefitting Communities
Policymakers, planners, and companies can work with home-based workers to overcome these challenges. When this happens, surrounding communities and local economies benefit.
- In Delhi, since the RUAAB SEWA Artisans Producer Company, Ltd. began working with home-based workers through the embroidery centre model, it has increased linkages to 20 brands and 36 suppliers. The model offers an ethical and transparent supply chain where high-quality products are delivered on time and at a competitive rate. Increased worker income has led to an increase in worker investment in better housing, water, and sanitation.
- In Faisalabad, HomeNet Pakistan facilitated links between municipal service departments and home-based worker communities and trained workers on how to interact with the municipality. As a result, workers negotiated a water filtration plant at a location that served their needs in terms of distance and safety. The plant now serves 2,000 households. Another group of women gained water connections for 80 households. The workers now spend less time collecting water and more time producing, which means an increased income into their households.
- In Kathmandu, HomeNet Asia, a network of home-based workers and SAATHI, a local NGO, partnered to meet with municipal officials to discuss the water, sanitation, safety and electricity supply issues. Since then, officials have proactively invited women workers to discussions. There have been collaborative efforts to install solar street lights, plan for a new 500 litre drinking water tank, and devise a paid waste collection system.
Creating Systemic Change
Changes to policies and practices around home-based workers and the informal economy have also occurred on a more systemic level. These publications outline how these changes have come about:
- Supporting Women Home-Based Workers: The Approach of the Self-Employed Women’s Association of India (WIEGO Policy Brief No. 13) presents an overview of SEWA’s innovative interventions for urban home-based workers, with a focus on Ahmedabad.
- Housing Finance for Poor Working Women: Innovations of the Self-Employed Women’s Association in India (WIEGO Policy Brief No. 14) outlines how SEWA’s experience – in both regulated banking and slum upgradation – proves that responding to the demands of self-employed women for better housing through tailored credit programmes and integration of pro-poor institutions can be viable and sustainable, even in the absence of legal tenure and traditional mortgage guarantees.
- How to Assess Security of Tenure and Emulate Mortgages for Financing Semi-Formal Homes: Lessons from Mahila Housing SEWA Trust. (WIEGO Technical Brief No. 8) illustrates how the Mahila Housing Trust has found a solution to pervasive problem of how to deliver housing loans in context of tenure insecurity has found a solution to pervasive problem of how to deliver housing loans in context of tenure insecurity. The brief also gives policymakers and planners the tools to replicate this product.
- Mixed-Use Zoning and Home-Based Production in India (WIEGO Technical Brief No. 3) For those wanting to design zoning schemes that are supportive of home based work, this brief drawing on experiences from India interrogates different options.
Learning to Work with Home-Based Workers
To help planners and policymakers develop a working knowledge of home-based workers and the informal economy, WIEGO has been developing research and recommendations available for download on this site.
- The Informal Economy Monitoring Study offers quantitative and qualitative findings on home-based workers in three Asian and South-Asian cities. It also offers policy recommendations based on these findings.
- Policy Briefs offer broad practices and ideas that offer contributions to livelihood centered development.