Report highlights role of co-ops in formalising the informal economy

Co-ops can provide a pathway to formalisation for all informal economy workers, says Streetnet International

The latest Global Report by StreetNet International emphasises the importance of the social and solidarity economy, particularly co-ops, in helping informal economy workers to sustain, providing basic social protection and access to work. 

A global organisation of informal traders, Streetnet International collects data on street vendors from its 56 affiliates, including trade unions, associations, co-ops and other forms of democratic and worker-led organisations. Together, they represent over 700,000 street and market vendors who contributed data.

The report highlights some of the key events organised by StreetNet in 2023, such as a regional conference on social protection in Lagos, Nigeria in June, and an international workshop in Sao Paolo in Brazil in November, where participants visited the Coopamare co-operative of waste pickers in São Paulo and heard from Simel Esim from ILO Coop. 

“Co-operatives are a tool for liberation,” Alberto Santana, vice-president of StreetNet, from the Dominican Republic, writes in the report. “The members of a co-operative have a commitment to always improve because they are investing their resources. It is also a democratic tool, because everyone participates and holds each other accountable.”

The report explains how co-operatives and other SSE units can provide a pathway to formalisation for all informal economy workers and help the members and their organizations to sustain, providing basic social protection and access to work. 

“We strongly believe that it’s an ‘alternative approach to business’ whose main goal is not only financial returns but also social benefits for their members and wider communities,” it adds.

StreetNet’s priorities include continuing to provide negotiations and collective bargaining training for members in different regions, investing in youth and continuing to provide capacity building training for its affiliates, including women leaders. The organisation is also looking to capacitate its affiliates to boost transparency and accountability procedures and equip them with tools to raise funds on their own and plan for a structure focusing on disabled people.

“In many countries, there continues to be violence and harassment targeting street vendors,” writes Lorraine Sibanda, StreetNet’s president.

“We have to upscale our advocacy in this area and continue to engage national governments, but also trade unions and civil society organisations for support. But we must never forget that we are workers, informal economy workers, speaking on our own behalf, and present our clear expectations from governments.

“We must measure those expectations against existing International Labour Standards, which also protect workers in the informal economy, particularly Convention 190 of the ILO on the elimination of violence and harassment in the world of work. But we know we cannot approach this Convention individually, but that it must be aligned with Recommendation 204 on transition from the informal to the formal economy, which has clear conditions on how member-states of the ILO should facilitate this process. Because it is a process. We know we cannot just dive into formality, that is not the sustainable way of approaching it.”