In developed and developing countries, grassroots organisations are trying to improve the livelihoods of informal producers. Such organisations have been concerned in particular with the homeworkers who carry out production tasks or provide services for the garment industry.
Organisations such as the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) of India, and Home Net International, both founding members of Women in the Informal Economy: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO), have tried to provide homeworkers with information and organisational strength. Women represent a majority of those working in the garment industry, particularly in home-based operations, where they are excluded from formal labour market protection and organisation.
WIEGO has given the practitioners in these organisations a regular opportunity to exchange experiences, learn fom each other and develop new instruments for placing local experiences in a global context. This has become increasingly necessary because the local prospects for enhancing skills and incomes depend on decisions taken in other parts of the globe. The globalisation of product markets has led to an unprecedented interdependence of enterprises and workers across regional and national boundaries.
While this general point is well understood by all involved, local workers and their organisations lack specific knowledge about the distant forces that determine their conditions. For example, how does the increasing concentration of the retail sectors in the US or UK affect the organisation of the value chain that these producers are part of? How does their performance – in terms of costs, quality, flexibility or speed – compare with that of competitors in other regions or countries? How do their earnings compare with those of similar producers elsewhere? Lack of knowledge on these and many other issues makes it very difficult for homeworkers to defend their positions or become pro-active. Government bodies are unlikely to provide the required information and understanding; and the work of academic institutions is often too abstract to be of use to them.