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Ford Foundation Dedicates $25 Million to Aid Informal Workers

Amid calls to include informal workers in economic recovery plans, the Ford Foundation announced last week a five-year, $25 million grant to tackle the issue of inequality in the world of work.

The philanthropic giant’s largesse will benefit Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO), an international research, policy and advocacy network dedicated to helping the working poor—women in particular—secure livelihoods in the informal economy.

The International Labor Organization estimates that roughly 2 billion workers, or more than 60 percent of the world’s adult labor force, toil in the informal sector at least some of the time. In the developing world, the figure rises to 90 percent, though developed nations are far from immune. One in five workers in the United States are employed informally, according to the Ford Foundation.

“We know there can be no global recovery without informal workers,” said Sarita Gupta, director of the Ford Foundation’s Future of Work(ers) program. “This grant recognizes the importance of ensuring billions of informal workers have a seat at the table to have their voices, demands and needs heard at the national and global levels, so policymakers and business leaders recognize their contributions and value. We are proud to support these women-led informal worker networks that are generating a global demand for social and labor protections for more than half the world’s workers.”

Informal work underpins much of the global economy, whether it’s waste pickers recycling valuable products to home-based workers stitching garments. Because their work isn’t regulated or protected by the state, however, they’re unable to unlock basic labor protections, benefits or social security. Informal workers, the Ford Foundation said, have been largely excluded from Covid-19 emergency funds and other government assistance, resulting in increased poverty, violence, homelessness and death.

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Millions of home-based workers in the garment industry saw their orders evaporate or lost out on payments after brands refused to pay for completed or in-production work. Without the safety nets of healthcare, income or social protections, the percentage of informal workers who fell into poverty doubled from 26 percent to 59 percent during the first month of the coronavirus crisis alone, the Ford Foundation said. Women are typically worse affected than men.

“As work has become increasingly precarious, informal and unsustainable, it is time for a deeper reckoning with inequality in the world of work,” said Sally Roever, international coordinator of WIEGO. “This infusion of funding will support WIEGO and our network partners to advance cutting edge research and build a bold global call for a just and inclusive economic recovery centered on informal workers. No one should work without just compensation and reasonable protections.”

The funding precedes the 109th session of the International Labour Conference, where WIEGO and its member networks will call for universal social protections, freedom of association and collective bargaining, as well as the implementation of ILO Recommendation 204, which promotes the transition from an informal to formal economy.