Street and market vendors, in particular, make locally produced food and drinking water more accessible and affordable in low-income areas. Photo: Carsten ten Brink/Flickr

2.1 million informal economy workers calling for a just transition at Bonn

Five organisations representing 2.1 million informal workers in 50+ countries are calling on governments to recognise the role of informal workers in reducing emissions and to help them adapt to climate impacts

The ongoing UNFCCC intersessional in Bonn will see the first negotiations on the Just Transition Work Program agreed to at COP27. At the International Labor Conference in Geneva, also underway, the General Discussion will focus on Just Transition for the first time, eight years after the International Labor Organization first published their Just Transition Guidelines

Workers from the informal economy are demanding a just transition to a low carbon future at these formal discussions. StreetNet International along with the International Alliance of Waste Pickers, HomeNet International, International Domestic Workers Federation, and Women In Informal Employment – Globalizing and Organizing, together represent more than 2.1 million informal economy workers from more than 50 countries. These organisations are collectively calling on governments to recognise the role of informal workers in reducing emissions, to help them adapt to climate impacts, and to provide a pathway to decent, inclusive jobs for all.

Totalling around 2 billion workers worldwide, informal economy workers like street vendors, market traders, home-based workers and domestic workers make up the majority of the global workforce and more than a quarter of the world’s population. Working from public spaces or homes, they are disproportionately impacted by extreme weather events like heat waves and floods and by higher energy and commodity prices. This vulnerability is compounded by a lack of labor and social protections.

Together, these five organisations will be advocating for a just transition that takes informal economy workers’ needs and contributions into consideration by:

  • Recognising the work of informal economy workers, acknowledging their tremendous current and potential contributions to reducing carbon emissions and mitigating environmental damage.
  • Including organisations of workers engaged in informal employment, through implementation of Recommendation 204, in social dialogue, collective negotiations and having a seat at the table in planning and decision-making processes on the issues that impact them. 
  • Introducing a mix of social protection measures, including social assistance and social insurance. These would function as adaptation mechanisms, enabling informal economy workers to face disruption and transitions in the labor market.
  • For the ILO to support member states to extend safe and healthy working conditions, part of the “Declaration of Fundamental Principles of Rights at Work” adopted in 1998 (and amended in 2022), so that they consider the impact of the climate crisis on the wellbeing of workers in informal employment.

“Informal economy workers are the backbone of the economy. For years we have united behind the rallying cry ‘Nothing for us without us’, and no discussion on just transition is complete without considering informal economy workers. After all, we make up the majority of the world’s workforce. As well as being the most impacted, we have the potential to play a huge role in mitigating the impacts of climate change, locally and nationally,” said Lorraine Sibanda, president of StreetNet.

Globally, informal economy workers make up 60% of the employed population, a figure that rises to 89% in Sub-Saharan Africa, yet many are not recognised as workers in their countries and are not entitled to labour rights and protections. This makes informal economy workers, many of whom are women working as the sole breadwinner for their families, extremely vulnerable to climate disasters and other external shocks. This also means that informal economy workers’ organisations are not included in social dialogue and collective negotiations. 

“We also need more work on social security. Social policies must be tuned towards protecting the working class, and providing better housing facilities, sanitation facilities and water points. It’s important to support this population affected by climate impacts in the short-term, at the same time as trying to mitigate further climate change in the long-term,” said Anjal Prakash, research director, Bharti Institute of Public Policy, Indian School of Business and Lead IPCC Author.

Informal economy workers play a key role in mitigating the impacts of climate change.  Street and market vendors, in particular, make locally produced food and drinking water more accessible and affordable in low-income areas. Despite being on the frontlines of climate change, informal economy workers face a double penalty. They are excluded from social protection measures and left out of collective dialogues and decision-making.  There’s an urgent need to include those at the ‘bottom of the pyramid’ and to create holistic just transition policies.