Front Cover
 Conditions of homebased work
 Efforts to improve the lives and...
 The international movement
 Back Cover

Group Title: Seeds
Title: Out of the shadows
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00088787/00001
 Material Information
Title: Out of the shadows homebased workers organize for international recognition
Series Title: Seeds
Physical Description: 23 p. : ill. ; 26 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Jhabvala, Renana
Tate, Jane
Publisher: Seeds
Place of Publication: New York
Publication Date: 1996
Subject: Home-based businesses -- Employees   ( lcsh )
Labor unions   ( lcsh )
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references (p. 23).
Statement of Responsibility: by Renana Jhabvala and Jane Tate.
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00088787
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: oclc - 35520197
issn - 0736-833 ;

Table of Contents
    Front Cover
        Front Cover 1
        Front Cover 2
        Page 1
        Page 2
        Page 3
        Page 4
        Page 5
        Page 6
    Conditions of homebased work
        Page 7
    Efforts to improve the lives and working conditions of homebased workers around the world
        Page 8
        Page 9
        Page 10
        Page 11
        Page 12
        Page 13
        Page 14
        Page 15
        Page 16
        Page 17
        Page 18
    The international movement
        Page 19
        Page 20
        Page 21
        Page 22
        Page 23
        Page 24
    Back Cover
        Page 25
Full Text


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SEEDS is a pamphlet series developed to meet requests from all over the
world for information about innovative and practical program ideas developed to
address the economic roles and needs of low income women. The pamphlets are
designed as a means to share information and spark new initiatives based on the
positive experiences of projects that are working to help women generate liveli-
hoods and to improve their economic status. The projects described in this and
other issues of SEEDS have been selected because they have served not only to
strengthen women's productive roles, but also to integrate women into various sec-
tors of development both social and economic. All projects documented in the SEEDS
series involve women in decision-making, organize women locally, and address
broader policy issues which affect the economic roles of women.
These reports are not meant to be prescriptive, since every development effort
will face somewhat different problems and possibilities. Rather, they have been writ-
ten to describe the history of an idea and its implementation in the hope that the
lessons learned can be useful in a variety of settings. They are also being written to
bring to the attention of those in decision-making positions the vital roles that women
play not only in the economies of their individual households but also in the eco-
nomic life of every nation.

The Population Council provides project direction and administrative
support for SEEDS. Editorial policy is set by the SEEDS Steering
Committee: Judith Bruce (The Population Council), Betsy Campbell
(The Ford Foundation), Marilyn Carr (UNIFEM), Marty Chen
(Harvard Institute for Intemational Development), Margaret Clark
(The Aspen Institute), Misrak Elias (UNICEF), Anne Kubisch (The
Aspen Institute), Ann Leonard (The Population Council), Elizabeth
McGrory (The Population Council), Cecilia Lotse (UNICEF),
Katharine McKee (Center for Community Self-Help), Kirsten Moore
(The Population Council), Aruna Rao, Jennefer Sebstad, Anne
Walker (Intemational Women's Tribune Center), and Mildred Warner
(Comell University).
SNo. 18196 Publication of SEEDS is made possible by support of the Ford
ISN 96 Foundation and the Population Council.
ISSN 073-6833
Copyright 1996 SEEDS Statements made and views expressed in this publication are solely
the responsibility of the authors and not of any organization
providing support for SEEDS.

Out of the Shadows:

Homebased Workers Organize

for International Recognition
By Renana Jhabvala and Jane Tate*

This issue of SEEDS is one of several forthcoming editions that will focus on
promoting the economic empowerment of women workers in selected occupa-
tions that employ large numbers of low-income women around the world (e.g.,
homebased work, street vending, waste recycling). Each will begin with a global
overview of the situation of women workers in the selected occupation or trade
and an analysis of the common obstacles they face. This will be followed by a
description of the common strategies that have been developed by programs
operating in a variety of settings to help these women overcome the constraints,
both traditional and modern, inherent in these occupations. This issue focuses on
the situation of homebased workers worldwide.

* The authors would like to acknowledge the contributions of Martha Alter Chen and Jennefer Sebstad in preparation of
the global overview of homework for this edition of SEEDS. Material for the introductory and SEWA sections has also
been drawn from the book Where Women Are Leaders: The SEWA Movement in India by Kalima Rose, 1992 (London:
Zed Books).

A Note on the Terminology

The term "homebased worker" has been
used by organizations in Asia to cover a range
of people, mainly women, who work at home
regardless of their exact conditions of employ-
ment. In industrialized countries, the term
"homeworkers" has generally been used in ref-
erence to "piece-rate" workers who complete
specific steps in the production process for
an employer or subcontractor in their homes.
"Homeworker" is also the term currently in use
by the International Labour Organization (ILO)
and is generally understood to mean those
working at home who are dependent on em-
ployers or intermediaries for work. However, it
is not uncommon to see the terms used inter-
changeably among those working in the field
in different parts of the world.

What is Homebased Work?

Homebased work is often seen as an old-
fashioned and declining form of production,
associated with the early stages of the indus-
trial revolution, not modern economies. Indeed,
homebased work spans continents and cen-
turies. Some of the oldest forms of work, such
as weaving and spinning, were done at home;
today some of the newest forms of work con-
nected with computer technology and mod-
ern telecommunications are increasingly tak-
ing place outside of a central work site.
Therefore, rather than receding, home-
based work is in fact a vital and growing part
of economic modernization, its growth expo-
nentially linked to the globalization of industry
and the never-ending search for less costly
sources of labor and more efficient means of
production. As governments seek to attract
industrial development, the availability of low-
cost labor and labor stability is a valuable bar-
gaining commodity. In today's international
marketplace, it is not uncommon for a single
garment or electronic device to be a compila-
tion of the efforts of workers on two or three
continents, most of whom are not even aware
of each others existence.
On the other hand, within the garment
trade, quick changes in fashion and demands
from retailers for an immediate response have
led to the need to produce high fashion gar-
ments rapidly and customized to a specific

marketplace. Such uncertainties in demand
has resulted in a highly competitive local manu-
facturing industry which has to rely on sub-
contracting orders out to small producers
rather than entailing the risk of production in
large scale factories halfway around the world.
It is well-known that the Japanese model of
"just in time" production (organized at the last
minute) was based on the existence of thou-
sands of small subcontractors who were able
to draw upon the skills of women working at
So, while homebased work in both de-
veloping and developed countries (including
Europe and North America) may be consid-
ered "informal" by most economists-in the
sense that workers are outside the protection
of the law and their work is often not valued
appropriately-most of the products they pro-
duce are sold by large, mainstream retailers.
The same pattern that is true for clothing can
also be found in the automobile industry, all
types of electronics production and assembly,
and many other modern industries.
In more advanced developing countries
other forces can be seen at work. In Thailand,
for example, as wages in the cities have risen,
Thai products have become expensive as com-
pared to their competitors in other less devel-
oped Asian countries. Local industries there-
fore are relocating to rural areas where small
workshops can be set up less expensively.
There they can take advantage of worldwide
trends in agricultural production that are mak-
ing subsistence farming less viable. New farm-
ing techniques also require cash to purchase
inputs such as fertilizer and pesticides, while
the growing influence of the mass media brings
with it an increased demand for consumer
goods. The result is the need for rural families
to develop other ways of earning income.
In sum, homebased work in all of its di-
verse forms cannot be viewed as an artifact of
traditional economies. Rather such work ap-
pears to be growing in both modernizing rural
and urban economies. Further, the income it
produces is not supplementary but rather in-
creasingly vital to families and nations alike. The
women who embroider on the island of Madeira,
Portugal, the homebased workers assembling
electronic devices in Brazil, the Chinese women
machine stitching garments at home in major
cities in Canada or Australia are all inextricably
linked within the worldwide marketplace.

; ~A

Rabiya Bibi sews garments at her home,
in a slum area of Indore, a city in central India.
She is a widow with three daughters and two
sons; the oldest is fifteen years old. Six years
ago, while her husband was still alive and em-
ployed, she bought a second-hand sewing
machine and began to stitch petticoats to-
gether at a rate of six rupees (approximately
U.S. $.35) per dozen.
However, when Rabiya Bibi's husband
died of tuberculosis and all their savings went
to pay his hospital expenses, Rabiya had to
sew day and night to make ends meet. Her
children had to leave school to work-her
daughters helping with the sewing as well as
housework and minding the younger children.
Rabiya rented a second sewing machine in
order to increase her earnings, but even with
her two daughters also working 12 to 14 hours
a day the family still lives below the officially
defined urban poverty line.

The Predominance of Women in
Homebased Work1

Rabiya Bibi belongs to a vast and often
invisible labor force-homebased workers-
about which we really know much too little, in-
cluding how many there actually are. Accord-
ing to the ILO,2 homework is women's work al-
most by definition, so it is not surprising that it
is often wrongly confused with housework or
domestic work. The invisibility of homebased
workers is directly related to the traditional iso-
lation of women within many societies that re-
stricts their interactions with other women out-
side of their families or immediate communi-
ties. It is not surprising that many of these
women, when surveyed, refer to themselves
as "not employed," or as "housewives", even
when they are spending 14-16 hours a day
earning income to support their families. They
carry out their tasks with minimal contact with
the outside world, often having little under-
standing of where the work comes from or
where it goes once it leaves their hands.
The over-representation of women in
homebased work is common in developed and
developing countries alike. In the Federal Re-
public of Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, and
the Netherlands, 95 percent of known home-
workers are women; in France, 84 percent; in
Spain, 75 percent; and in the United Kingdom,

95 percent.3 While data from the developing
countries are less systematic, studies in Brazil
found that homebased piece-rate workers
were mainly women; in India, nearly 90 per-
cent of the five million bidi workers (rollers of
indigenous cigarettes) were women. Large
numbers of immigrants and ethnic minorities
also turn to homebased work as they not only
face discrimination in the labor market but must
also contend with barriers to formal employ-
ment such as problems of language, culture
or legal status. Disabled individuals in many
countries also face restricted employment op-
portunities and thus have little alternative but
homebased work.
When the Self-Employed Women's Asso-
ciation (SEWA) in Ahmedabad, India first be-
gan surveying women homebased workers,
across every trade women told them that what
they needed was more work. Yet these same
women were already laboring as much as 16
hours per day, often having to carry their chil-
dren with them while they worked. Because
they could not perceive themselves as having
the ability to negotiate better working condi-
tions, the only solution they could see to their
poverty was to get more work. This world view
plays right into the hands of the contractors
and middlemen who exploit their vulnerability
to the benefit of themselves and the industries
that employ them.
Therefore, it is not surprising that one of
the first steps in bringing such women out of
the shadows is to help them internalize the
concept that they are in fact "workers" to the
same, or sometimes to a greater extent, than
their fathers, husbands and sons.

How Prevalent is
Homebased Work?

It is difficult to determine the extent of
homebased work internationally as few coun-
tries collect national level statistics on this elu-
sive, yet pervasive form of employment. A 1990
review of 70 countries for which the ILO has
data found that only seven countries (Federal
Republic of Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, Japan,
Morocco, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland) ac-
tually collect data on homeworkers. One diffi-
culty is the lack of international statistical guide-
lines that define homework, which not only hin-
ders the collection of such data but makes in-

ternational comparisons of existing data diffi-
cult. Moreover, whatever official statistics ex-
ist probably underestimate the number of
homebased workers because such activities
are often invisible or clandestine.

What Are the Different Types of
Homebased Work?

Though many of the issues homebased
workers face are similar, it is still important to
describe the full range of homebased work and
the varying degrees of difficulty that home-
based workers confront in making a decent
living. Basically, there are two principal types.
Homebased workers such as Rabiya (profiled
above) are piece-rate workers. They get their
raw materials from a trader, a contractor, an
employer or a firm, make them into finished
goods at home, and deliver their finished
goods to the same person. Rarely do these
workers have any direct contact with the mar-
ketplace for the goods they produce. However,
often the raw materials they receive from the
factories or contractors are not sufficient, or
certain necessary components are not pro-
vided to them, so they have to buy these items

themselves. Rabiya, for example, buys the
thread she needs for sewing from the market.
Recently the price of thread went up, so she
now spends almost 20 percent of her earn-
ings just on thread. And while some employ-
ers or contractors loan equipment to their piece
rate workers, most have to provide their own
tools. Thus the cost of equipment, maintenance
and infrastructure, such as electricity, can also
cut deeply into the workers' earnings.

The employers spend nothing. They
should actually be paying homebased work-
ers more than factory workers, since we bear
these expenses.
Rahima Shaikh, organizer of
garment stitchers, Ahmedabad, India4

Another type of homebased worker is the
own account worker. She is generally in direct
contact with the market, buying her own raw
material and selling her own finished goods.
However, in terms of earnings and working
conditions, she is rarely much better off than
her piece-rated sisters. Own account workers
face competition from larger more powerful
businesses and rarely have access to credit,
except at exorbitant rates of interest. Thus,
they have to buy raw materials in small quan-
tities, making them more expensive, and
rarely are they able to sell their goods them-
selves directly in the markets. Thus they too
are generally reliant on agents, contractors
and other middlemen.
So although there is a theoretical differ-
ence between a piece-rated worker, who is
"dependent" on a specific employer or a con-
tractor, and an own account worker who is sup-
posedly "independent," in practice this distinc-
tion tends to blur. For example, bidi workers in
India are generally considered to be piece-
rated, but some employers now require these
workers to "buy" from the company the to-
bacco and leaf they roll and then "sell" the fin-
ished bidis back to the company in order to
make it appear that these workers are "inde-
pendent." Similarly, weavers in Thailand are
own account workers in that they buy their own
yarn and sell their cloth in the market. How-
ever, to do this they generally must buy their
material on credit from the same merchants to
whom they eventually sell their finished
goods-and at prices determined by the same
merchants. So, although technically the pro-

ducer is an own account worker, she has no
direct access to the best markets and limited
bargaining power.

Key Industries and Sectors for
Homebased Work
Homebased work is a principal produc-
tion strategy for many manufacturing industries
that involve labor-intensive manual or machine
tasks (such as sorting, cleaning, packaging,
labeling, coil winding, soldering). Small-scale
studies from around the world show that within
the manufacturing sector, homebased work-
ers continue to play a vital role in the clothing
and textile industries, the leather industry, arti-
ficial flower making, bidi (cigarette) rolling, and
carpet making. In recent years, as manufactur-
ing has restructured and decentralized, there has
been increasing use of homebased workers in
the production of electronic equipment and in
the service sector (activities such as filling en-
velopes, mailings, typing, word and data pro-
cessing, invoicing, editing, and translating.)

How Widespread is
Homebased Work?

A number of small studies have been car-
ried out on homebased workers. Only a few

even estimate the proportion of home-based
workers in a particular sector. Nonetheless,
their findings give an indication of the propor-
tion of homebased workers concentrated in
particular trades and services across regions
and countries. For example, homebased work-
ers account for 45 percent of all clothing in-
dustry workers in Venezuela5 while, in Buenos
Aires, Argentina, homebased workers make up
31 percent of all clothing workers, 12 percent
of wood and furniture makers, and 21 percent
of workers in non-specific manufacturing. In
Mexico, an estimated 30 percent of the labor
force in the garment industry are homebased
In 1986, homebased workers made
up an estimated 38 percent of workers in
Thailand's wearing apparel industry and
25-39 percent in the Philippines.7 On the is-
land of Madeira, Portugal, they constitute over
95 percent of the total embroidery industry
workforce and represent nearly 20 percent of
the island's ecomically active population.8

Location of Homebased Work

Homebased workers are found in all
types of economies, modern and traditional.
While they are often concentrated in industrial
areas and large urban centers-such as Lon-
don or Paris, Ahmedabad or Mexico City-

many recent studies have shown that modern
forms of homebased work provide a growing
source of employment in rural areas as well;
this is true in Spain and Greece, in Southeast
Asia and India, and in the USA.


Homebased Workers Are
Generally Poorly Paid
It is almost universally true that in all
economies the earnings of homebased work-
ers are lower than other workers, and often less
than the minimum wage. In a study done by
the Self Employed Workers Association Acad-
emy in India, it was found that 85 percent of
the workers sampled in 14 trades were earn-
ing 50 percent below the official poverty
rate.9 Similarly, a report from the Self Em-
ployed Women's Union (SEWU) in South Af-
rica found that 65 percent of women
homebased workers were earning less than
the minimum wage each week. In Australia,
the Textile Clothing and Footwear Union
found that "out workers," (as they are known
locally) who typically work 12 to 18 hours per
day, seven days a week, earn about a third of
the standard rate of pay.10

Homebased Workers
Often Are Not Recognized by
Governments and Are Rarely
Covered by Even Minimum
Worker Benefits

Unlike other types of workers, home-
based workers rarely have any access to so-
cial security benefits of any kind, such as
health care, child care or old age pensions.
While it is true that developing countries rarely
have social security systems, most formal
sector workers are protected by specific laws,
while homebased workers are not. Or, even if
covered in theory, most have no knowledge
of, or ability to gain access to, these services.
For example, the state of Gujarat in India has
a series of laws that regulate and protect bidi
workers, and provides health centers specifi-
cally set up to serve these workers and their
families. However, these rights were estab-

lished through union organizing when bidi
rolling work was done within factories. To
avoid complying with this legislation, which
increased their costs, cigarette companies
began to give out the work of rolling bidis to
homebased workers-who are predomi-
nantly women. Until they were organized by
SEWA (see next section) these women had
no idea that these laws even existed. And
while they were aware of the health center,
they could not use its services because they
did not have cards identifying themselves as
bidi workers.
Even in developed countries, homebased
workers tend to be excluded from benefits and
protection because their earnings disqualify
them for welfare benefits, or they are officially
classified as self-employed, or they are re-
stricted from seeking assistance because of
language, education or legal barriers.

Homebased Workers May
Appear to be Independent
but in Most Cases They
Are Not

On the surface, homebased workers
may seem to have substantial latitude in terms
of the hours they work, the materials they use,
and when and how they want to work. But in
reality, their supply and marketing relation-
ships are most often simply a disguised and
unregulated form of employer-employee re-
lationship, camouflaged through an often
complex arrangement of agents, traders and

Homebased Workers
Have Special Housing

As the name implies, homebased work-
ers work at home. But because the majority
are poor, in both developed and developing
countries, work and family life must co-exist in
very cramped quarters.

Once we got into their neighborhoods,
we could always locate the workers-their
houses are so small they have to pull their
machines out onto the footpath.
SEWA Organizer, Ahmedabad, India"

In addition to lack of space, many of
these homes lack adequate light or other fa-
cilities. In addition, in many situations they are
vulnerable to fire, theft and both natural and
civil disturbances. As many of the workers
also have no title to their homes, they may
find themselves literally "out on the street" at
the whim of husbands, in-laws, landlords or
local governments.

After losing her job at a health center,
Beauty and 12 other women living in the Umlazi
township outside of Durban, South Africa
started a sewing project to earn income.
Beauty is a single mother and the sole sup-
porter of her two children. However, this was
the period leading up to the first democratic
elections in South Africa and violence was
rife. Beauty's house was attacked and dis-
mantled and she was robbed of all her furni-
ture. The sewing group disintegrated as the
women sought safer places to stay. It was only
after she joined the Self Employed Women's
Union that Beauty was able to get the assis-
tance she needed to get back in business.
Today she is again working at home, in a shack
she has built for herself in another township,
sewing on a hand-operated machine as there
is no electricity.


The persistence and indeed the growth
of homebased employment worldwide and the
uncertainty and discrimination these women
face in their work conditions and marketing ar-
rangements have led workers in different parts
of the world to join together to improve their
situation. The following are examples of some
of these efforts from different parts of the world,
from both developing and developed coun-
tries. While their approaches may vary, each
effort is directed towards improving the self-
esteem, work relations, and remuneration of
these workers as well as helping to gain offi-
cial recognition for and policies in support of
this vital, largely female workforce.

India: Self Employed Women's
Association (SEWA)

India has a large and growing home-
based work force in both urban and rural ar-
eas. Although there is no official count, in 1991
the Commission on Rural Labour estimated

that there were about 20 million homebased
workers in rural areas alone. The Self Employed
Women's Association was the first organiza-
tion to draw national attention to these work-
ers and, in fact, the term "homebased worker"
was coined by SEWA.
SEWA is a trade union formed in 1972.
However, it is not a union in the traditional
sense. Rather it is a movement that represents
the confluence of three different movements:
the labor movement, the cooperative move-
ment and the women's movement. SEWA is
located in the state of Gujarat, birthplace of
Mahatma Gandhi, and Gandhian principles are
the inspiration behind SEWA. SEWA organizes
women to enter the economic mainstream
through the twin strategies of struggle and
development. The union struggles on behalf
of its members at three levels: the exploitation
they face directly from employers; their lack of
influence before the law and with government
bureaucracies; and their exclusion from the
process of developing relevant policies and
SEWA members include three main cat-
egories of self-employed women:
Hawkers and vendors who sell their
wares (vegetables, fish, fruit, eggs,
prepared foods, household goods,
ready-made and used clothes, etc.)
from carts, baskets or in market
Manual laborers and service provid-
ers, such as agricultural laborers, con-
struction workers, contract laborers,
head loaders (women who transport
commodities on their heads, such as
construction materials), cart pullers,
laundry and domestic workers.
Homebased workers such as weavers,
potters, bidi(cigarettes), agarbatti(in-
cense) and papad(bread) rollers, gar-
ment makers, processors of various
types of agricultural produce and
crafts women.

In India today more than 93 percent of
wage earners are self-employed workers la-
boring in these types of trades. And women
constitute more than half of the self-employed!
In 1994 SEWA's membership was nearly
220,000, and 40 percent of members were
homebased workers.

As a union, SEWA has organized home-
based workers to demand higher rates and
better working conditions. For example,
whereas most homebased work is not regu-
lated by law, bidi workers (as noted above)
are covered by the Bidi and Cigar Workers
(Conditions of Employment) Act, and their rates
are fixed by the government. When SEWA first
began organizing homebased bidiworkers in
1979, they were earning Rs. 8 per thousand
cigarettes rolled, which was about half the mini-
mum wage. After a struggle of nearly ten
years-during which SEWA workers held ral-
lies, sit-in protests, a strike, and filed four cases
in various courts-an agreement was finally
reached with employers. Today bidi workers
in Ahmedabad are earning Rs. 25 per thou-
sand, which is equal to the minimum wage.
Garment workers, on the other hand,
were not protected by any laws, including the
Minimum Wages Act. In this case, the union's
struggle took the form of trying to get them pro-
tection under the law. It took five years, but a
law was finally passed. Today garment work-
ers too are covered by minimum wage laws.
SEWA has carried out similar struggles on be-
half of incense stick workers, cotton pod
sellers and embroiderers.

However, SEWA soon found that getting
such laws passed is not enough. For them to
be implemented means a long and arduous
process requiring hard and often bitter
struggles. And because homebased workers
are economically and socially vulnerable and
have little or no bargaining power, it is very
difficult for them to sustain such long term
struggles. For this reason, SEWA's emphasis
has shifted to the adoption of alternative eco-
nomic systems like cooperatives. By work-
ing together in cooperatives, women learn
how to access markets themselves, bypass-
ing the middlemen and moneylenders, and
are better able to access social benefits such
as healthcare, childcare, savings programs,
and insurance.
Within SEWA, chindi workers were the first
to organize themselves into cooperatives in
order to buy cloth and market their goods col-
lectively. Chindi is fabric sewn from waste cloth
left over from the production of textiles in large
mills. Traditionally, women received this cloth
from traders and sewed it into pillow covers,
quilts and blankets. They were paid piece rates
for this work. When some of the women began
to organize to demand higher piece rates, the
traders refused to give them any work at all. It
was then that SEWA organized the women into
a cooperative so that they could buy leftover
cloth directly from the factories themselves.
The traders had tried to convince the women
that if they paid higher piece rates they would
be forced out of business. The cooperative,
however, paid higher rates from the start and
still made a profit; clearly demonstrating that
fair wages and profitability are not mutually
exclusive. And as a result of the piece rates
paid by the cooperative, private traders are
now offering the same rates to their workers
(and they haven't gone bankrupt yet).
In urban areas the chindi workers were
followed by hand block printers, bamboo work-
ers and bidi rollers; in the rural areas by em-
broiderers, leather workers and weavers. Ulti-
mately these cooperatives have joined to-
gether to form federations and many have ac-
quired their own marketing outlets. For women
such as these, coming together in a coopera-
tive marks the first time in their lives that they
have ever actually owned something of their
own and had decisionmaking power over it.
This change in consciousness from a piece-
rate worker to a worker-owner is a monumen-

tal one in terms of women's personal and eco-
nomic empowerment. Further, the government
provides different forms of financial and policy
support to officially registered cooperatives in
India, thus giving poor women access to a
range of existing benefits and services that
they could never benefit from on their own.
Building a cooperative, however, is not
easy. The first difficulty is that before they can
compete effectively in the marketplace many
of the women need to upgrade their skills. In
other cases workers lack certain crucial skills
required to carry out the complete production
process themselves because traders have
kept this information from them. Block print-
ers, for example, found that though they
could do the printing they did not know the
art of color mixing. Embroiderers found out
that the color combinations that they were us-
ing were not suitable to the tastes of metro-
politan consumers, so they had to learn to
develop new combinations.
Marketing-i.e., understanding who the
buyers are, what quality work they need, where
and when they need it, and establishing links
with these markets-is another hurdle that
these cooperatives have to face. Perhaps
some of the proudest moments for homebased
workers has been when they have been able
to open their own shop in the same location as
their former employers.
SEWA has also been able to organize
women around issues of health.

This body is my only asset. On days I
work, I earn. When I am sick, I cannot earn.
My fire stays cold those days. There is no other
body, no other asset to fall back on...
Kantibehn, an agricultural
laborer, India12

In fact, when venturing into new territory,
SEWA has found that organizing around health
is one of the most effective and nonthreaten-
ing ways to bring women together. In particu-
lar, early research by the Association docu-
mented that childbirth was one of the greatest
risks faced by self-employed women. This re-
sulted in SEWA establishing its own package
of maternity benefits in 1978; in 1987, it was
successful in getting the state Labour Ministry
to provide this coverage to landless agricul-
tural workers through its Maternity Protection
Scheme. SEWA has also trained 44 women

who serve as community health workers and
has developed health worker and child care
cooperatives-successfully lobbying for the
inclusion of the latter under the government's
Integrated Childhood Development Scheme.
These cooperatives provide services to other
SEWA members at reasonable rates.
Gaining access to social security is an-
other area where SEWA seeks to help home-
based workers. In collaboration with national
insurance companies, SEWA has been able
to help insure 12,000 of its members against
the natural, social and individual crises that
continually threaten their lives and work. Cov-
erage includes death, sickness, widowhood,
and loss of household goods and work tools
in case of flood, fire, riot, or storm.
Another major need of homebased work-
ers is access to credit. At SEWA, this is met
through the SEWA Cooperative Bank, founded
in 1974. SEWA Bank is without doubt a
women's space. The women say, "it is like my
mother's place," somewhere they feel comfort-
able and at home. They also refer to the bank
as "the village well," a place to come together
and talk with other women about their work.
Most of the loans made by the SEWA
Bank are unsecured because initially poor
women have little besides their jewelry that can

be offered as security. But the women in the
union and in the cooperatives are all encour-
aged to own their own tools, maintain a savings
account in their own name and, if possible, to
have their land or home registered in their own
name (or at least jointly with their husbands).
Forty percent of SEWA bank loans are for
housing or related productive expenses. Since
a homebased worker's house is also her work-
place, women take loans to buy land and build-
ing materials; they add on to existing houses
by building a porch or putting down a cement
floor, and they install connections that will pro-
vide access to running water and electricity.
Today the bank has nearly 50,000 depositors
and capital assets of Rs. 1.2 million.
Beyond Gujarat, SEWA has been actively
advocating for homebased workers at the na-
tional level by holding seminars and workshops
for policy makers. In 1989, Ela Bhatt, SEWA's
General Secretary, was appointed to head a
National Commission on Self-Employed
Women established by the Prime Minister. Now,
along with a group of lawyers, SEWA has
helped to draft a Homebased Workers Protec-
tion and Welfare Act which has been intro-
duced into the national Parliament and is now
leading a national campaign to ensure its pas-
sage into national law.

United Kingdom: The West
Yorkshire Homeworking Unit

Rabiya Bibi's English counterpart, Julie,
lives in West Yorkshire. She is 29, married and
has two daughters. Her husband has a low-
paying job as a laborer Julie used to work in
an office but when her second child was born
she decided to stay at home because child-
care was both difficult to arrange and expen-
sive. However, as the family still needed two
incomes, she decided to look for work she
could do at home.
Julie had always liked knitting and em-
broidery, so when she saw a card in a local
shop saying "Hand-Knitters Wanted," she an-
swered the advertisement. A woman came to
her house and gave her patterns and wool.
This agent regularly gives out work to 20 to 30
women in the area. The sweaters and jackets
they knit are then sold by a large mail order
Soon Julie was working as long as 30
hours per week and being paid 5 pounds per
garment [apx. US $7.60]. Imagine how she felt
when she found a catalogue where the sweat-
ers she had knitted were being advertised for
ten times that price!
At first, she did not count the hours she
spent knitting as she enjoyed the work and her
family needed the money. But one day the agent
told her that her garments were the wrong size
and refused to pay her Julie was sure this was
just a ruse, as her work had always been right
before, but there was little she could do about
it: she had no written contract and there was no
one she could complain to. So, she gave up
knitting and looked for other work.
A friend then told her about electronics
work that could be done at home. So she went
down to the factory where a supervisor showed
her how to assemble tiny electronic parts and
solder printed circuit boards. The good news
is that this work pays better than knitting. When
there is enough work, Julie can earn up to 80
pounds (about US $54) a week for about 50
hours work. But she still gets no holiday pay
nor does she receive the bonuses given to
those doing the same work at the factory. And
now Julie has learned that the company wants
to reduce the piece rates they pay to their

Traditionally West Yorkshire was famous
for its woolen textile industry but that industry
is now in decline. But while far fewer people
are employed directly in the factories and mills,
the industry remains a source employment
through homebased or "outwork" as it is known
locally. For example, the final process in the
making of woolen cloth, called burlingg and
mending," is now most commonly done by
women working at home, usually through a
subcontractor. Today many of the newer,
smaller companies producing women's fash-
ions officially employ only three or four work-
ers, while unofficially they are giving out work
to twenty or thirty machinists working at home.
Homebased work in many other industries is
also common in West Yorkshire and through-
out the UK, in areas such as electronics and
electrical goods, engineering, print and pack-
aging, toy-making, knitting (both hand and ma-
chine), clerical (typing, filling and addressing
envelopes), and data in-putting or word pro-
cessing using computers.
The West Yorkshire Homeworking Unit
(WYHU) was formed by a group of women
drawn from employment rights and commu-
nity groups who were looking at new ways of
organizing women workers. When WYHU was
set up in 1988, some research on homework
had been done by Bradford University, but
there was no organizing going on and very little
contact with the homeworkers themselves.
The vast majority of homeworkers in West
Yorkshire are women, many with young chil-
dren. Some are single parents; some live in
households where the men are unemployed.
Many do homework because they cannot find
jobs outside or they need to combine paid
employment with child care. The women come
from many different areas, both rural and ur-
ban, and from different communities. WYHU
estimates about half the homeworkers come
from minority communities originating in India,
Pakistan and Bangladesh.
WYHU began by offering homeworkers
confidential advice and support via a free tele-
phone helpline and through community con-
tacts. Wherever possible home visits were
made as a follow up to the phone calls. Many
of the women reported that it was the first time
they had someone they could talk to about their
work. They all told a familiar story of low pay,
irregular work, no employment rights, health
problems, and great insecurity. Yet, despite

their complaints, they were always afraid of
losing their work: no matter how small, their
income was vital to their families well-being.
Thus the process of establishing trust was cru-
cial and took time.
WYHU employs former homeworkers as
outreach workers because they possess a first-
hand understanding of the situations these
women face and can more easily win their trust.
By following up phone calls with home visits
they can, over time, establish a relationship of
trust. Then, when they are in touch with sev-
eral homeworkers in one area, they encourage
them to get together in neighborhood groups.
The WYHU's first task was to make these
women visible. Wherever possible, homework-
ers themselves were encouraged to speak to
groups of people, in West Yorkshire and be-
yond, telling their own stories. A newsletter was
instituted, intended primarily for homeworkers,
but also aimed at educating a wider audience.
The newsletter regularly presents an A-Z of
home work, listing about one hundred differ-
ent jobs done at home in West Yorkshire. Ar-
ticles are written in Urdu, Gujarati, Punjabi,
Bengali, and Chinese, as well as English.
WYHU organizes activities to bring
homeworkers together, including social events
and meetings to deal with problem issues. When
a number of women in one particular area are

working for the same employer, these meetings
provide an opportunity for them to compare
rates and talk together about how to tackle com-
mon problems they face with their employer.
Unfortunately the problem the women most of-
ten talk about is lack of enough work and the
need to find other ways of earning money.
As their contacts with the homeworkers
grew, WYHU began providing legal advice and
moral support to individual women, even help-
ing some to take their employers to industrial
tribunals to win back pay. Although only half a
dozen women were actually successful in
court, the newsletter publicized these cases
and helped to remove the isolation felt by other
women working by themselves at home. At a
later stage, a video was made with both En-
glish and Urdu soundtracks as many women
are verbally bilingual but unable to read either
language. Also, due to the popularity of Indian
films, most households in this community have
video players. The video helped to publicize
the existence of the WYHU.
Since 1990, WYHU has been among the
many groups who have sought to internation-
alize the organizing of homeworkers by pro-
moting visits between its constituency and
women homeworkers in the Netherlands and
Portugal. Recently WHYU has set up a
homeworkers' association aimed at develop-

ing an organization that will be able to repre-
sent homeworkers' directly instead of being
just a community project. The association cur-
rently maintains a pilot project in West York-
shire, but if successful it will expand to other
parts of Britain. The impetus for this followed a
visit by SEWA organizers to a conference held
in Bradford, UK in 1992, where they explained
how SEWA operated as a women's trade union.
As WYHU looks ahead, it hopes to make
more progress on the national front. A National
Group on Homeworking (NGH) was estab-
lished in 1984 and is the main body campaign-
ing for employment protection on behalf of
homeworkers in the UK.

The Philippines: PATAMABA

Ka Lilay weaves sawali or palm leaves
for a subcontractor in her village in the Philip-
pines. She buys palm leaves and bamboo from
a local farmer The bamboo are cut into long
strips with sharp knives and Ka Lilay then
weaves them into rectangular mats according
to specifications provided by the subcontrac-
tor. But sometimes the subcontractor refuses
to pay her, saying the mats are not of the re-
quired quality (but taking them anyway). Then
Ka Lilay loses not only her earnings from the
weaving, but also her investment in the raw
materials. But there is nothing she can do about
it-she needs the work.

There are an estimated five to seven mil-
lion homebased workers in the Philippines
doing both piece-rated and own account work
in rural and urban areas. Most of this work is
done for the export industry and includes
stitching garments, embroidery and crochet-
ing. Fabric and designs are provided to the
workers by subcontractors who obtain them
from the export firms. Here too, piece rates are
very low, well below a minimum wage.
The Association of the New Filipina
(known as KaBaPa, from its Filipino name), was
started in 1975 by a group of rural women to
raise awareness of women's need for steady
employment and income. In 1988 the ILO asked
KaBaPa to work with them on a project to orga-
nize homebased workers. For the women them-
selves this was the first time they actually began
to think of themselves as "homebased workers"
rather than just rural women. This new perspec-

tive helped them to perceive themselves in a
new light-as a specific category of workers,
with particular needs and demands.
After 29 homebased work leaders from
nine provinces held a meeting, it became evi-
dent that homebased work was a widespread
phenomenon in the Philippines and that they
all shared similar situations and similar needs.
They also realized that they were in many ways
"invisible" to the rest of society, especially
policymakers, and that if they wanted to better
their lives, they would have to organize nation-
ally. The result was the founding of PATAMABA,
the National Network of Homeworkers.
PATAMABA's objective is to strengthen,
consolidate and expand the national network
of homebased workers and, as SEWA has
done, to provide support services for their
welfare, social protection, and increased pro-
ductivity. PATAMABA helps homebased work-
ers form self-sustaining local groups while at
the same time working at the policy level to
raise awareness about homebased workers
and gain support for their cause. Today there
are 5,000 PATAMABA members in 28 out of a
total of 75 provinces in the Philippines. The
majority of members are in rural areas but there
are also some urban members.
PATAMBA produces gabays (training ma-
terials) in Tagalog and some other Filipino lan-

guages. They have also helped their members
to set up their own microenterprises, or to work
cooperatively in groups, in order to become in-
dependent of traders and subcontractors. To this
end, they provide training in financial manage-
ment and technical aspects of production, and
have set up a three million peso revolving loan
fund; their long term aim is to set up their own
bank, modeled on the SEWA Bank in India.
PATAMABA has successfully interacted
with national trade union federations, with the
Department of Labor and with universities and
other NGOs. It has also been able to convince
the government to support the International
Convention on Homebased workers within the
ILO (see discussion below). PATAMABA has
influenced the government to implement pro-
visions on homebased work within the labor
code in order to ensure the rights of home-
based workers and provide them with more
security and social protection. It is also at-
tempting to work with officials of the social se-
curity system to bring about better coverage
for homebased workers. At the grassroots
level, homebased workers' groups have been
helped to organize and to gain access to ex-
isting resources such as local economic de-
velopment programs, training for enterprise de-
velopment and sometimes credit.

Helping groups market their products has
also been an important PATAMABA function.
The organization has set up display counters
in the capital city, Manila, organized exhibi-
tions, and obtained export orders for its mem-
bers. It is now affiliated with an NGO market-
ing program called MAGIC and is exploring
the possibility of developing a South-to-South
marketing network.
The success of PATAMABA, and other
homeworkers' associations in Thailand and In-
donesia, has led the ILO to propose a new
project that would expand this work to other parts
of Asia. The new project will expand coverage
to five countries, with organizing carried out along
the same lines as PATAMABA and SEWA.

Antonina Nina is the national coordinator
of PATAMABA and a former homebased gar-
ment worker She started sewing when she was
15 and soon begin doing piece-rate work. Af-
ter subtracting the cost of thread and rental of
a sewing machine, she was earning only a few
pesos a week.
"After a while, I got involved with KaBaPa
and began to understand how pitiful our situa-
tion was. I got cheated by a contractor who
refused to give me my payment so, after this

rr.~ r ~L ~i~W W -f

experience, I shifted to another contractor. I
also thought of requesting her to give me a
written document stating when I would be paid
and how much the payment for sewing the
material would be. Other workers thought this
was a good idea. They requested me to be
their leader and to help them get prompt pay-
ment and better rates."
In 1987, these homebased workers
formed a stitchers' cooperative, but they were
not able to reach enough markets to keep go-
ing. Antonina continued to organize the stitch-
ers and to negotiate with contractors on their
behalf, so it wasn't long before her own con-
tractor stopped giving her work. "At first I felt
sad and hurt because what I earned from sew-
ing had helped my family a lot," she recalls.
"Then I decided to focus my energies on full-
time organizing.
"I believe that it is only through an orga-
nization that homebased workers can attain
social protection. Together, we can bargain for
higher wages. We can ask for social security,
for assistance when we give birth or when we
get sick due to our work. We can have more
education and training. I experienced a lot of
pain because of my lack of formal schooling. I
would not like the young homebased workers
to experience the same pain.
It is difficult to be a leader in an organi-
zation. I do not expect material gain or per-
sonal happiness as a reward for my involve-
ment. All I want is change in the condition of
homebased workers. That would be like giv-
ing me a crown."

The Homebased Workers'
Association, Toronto, Canada
The International Ladies' Garment Work-
ers' Union (ILGWU) has been organizing work-
ers in the garment industry across North
America since 1905, but most of its experience
has been with factory workers. However, be-
ginning in the 1980s, here too there has been
a shift in production away from factories and a
rise in the number of homebased workers.
Recognizing the growth in this sector, the
ILGWU local in Toronto, the Ontario District
Council, decided to take up the challenge of
organizing this illusive work force.
The first step was to find out just who the
homeworkers are, and then to learn the de-

tails about their pay and working conditions.
In 1991, the Council completed its first study
which showed that the majority of home-
workers were women from immigrant groups
who had little choice other than to take up
homework because of the lack of childcare.
Many of them had previous experience work-
ing in factories.
Here as elsewhere, homeworkers are
paid on a piece-rate basis. The majority report
that their pay is determined solely by the em-
ployer and most is below the statutory mini-
mum wage of the Province of Ontario. Some
of the workers surveyed earned only one-third
of the minimum wage; one worker earned less
than one-sixth. In addition to the exploitation
of these women, their low wages undercut
standards in unionized factories, and even
many non-unionized shops, thus contributing
to the downward spiral of working conditions
in the entire clothing sector.
Based on this information, the Council
decided to start a campaign to organize
homeworkers and create public awareness
about conditions in the clothing industry. A
Coalition for Fair Wages and Working Condi-
tions was launched with the objectives of win-
ning public support and seeking legislative
change by educating officials from the vari-
ous political parties in Ontario to the extent of
homework in the province.
While the Coalition found support from a
broad range of community organizations-in
particular, women's organizations and church
groups-it considered the organizing of
homeworkers themselves as its most essen-
tial task. A union is legally entitled to act on
behalf of workers in collective bargaining only
when union membership reaches a certain
percentage of workers in, for instance, a fac-
tory. It is, therefore, very difficult for a union to
establish a legal basis for representing
homeworkers. The ILGWU established an as-
sociate membership scheme for homeworkers
called the Home Workers Association (HWA).
Associate membership is a way around these
legal restrictions, and has been used with other
previously unorganized workers such as flower
sellers in New York. As a result of their mem-
bership in this more formal structure, home-
workers themselves are able to speak out at
legislative hearings on labor law reform.
The HWA studied experiences else-
where, particularly in the UK, and used a lot of

those methods to reach Canadian home-
workers (telephone helpline, social events,
employing organizers from minority communi-
ties, etc.) but adapted them to operate within
the framework of a regular union. Another strat-
egy was to focus public attention on particular
retailers who sell expensive garments made
by homeworkers for illegal wages and often
under appalling conditions. Other unions joined
forces with HWA, such as the Public Sector Al-
liance of Canada (PSAC), thus bringing together
those organizing around the oldest form of
homeworking-clothing-and those concerned
with the growth of its newest form-teleworking.
As many homeworkers are immigrants,
the lack of a common language compounds
their isolation and complicates organizing.
Thus, the HWA has initially concentrated on
recruiting Chinese-speaking homeworkers and
thus far has organized over 100 Chinese
women working in this sector. It is extremely
difficult, if not impossible to contact women
homeworkers from minority communities with-
out employing outreach workers who share a
similar background, culture and language. This
is not just a language issue but also has to do
with understanding the community. Both in the
UK and Canada, the immediate employer may
share a similar background with the home-

workers, thus creating a common bond while
"outsiders" would be seen as interfering and
not to be trusted.
In its first year, the HWA recruited over
one hundred women through a combination
of personal contacts, social activities, legal
advice, and training workshops. Most of the
homeworkers signed up again after their first
year's membership. Here it is important to note
that the numbers of homeworkers involved in
industrialized countries are much smaller than
in Asia. Thus organizing one hundred home-
workers in a Canadian city is a considerable
achievement even if the actual numbers are
small when compared with what has been
achieved in Asia. Over time, the union aims to
expand organizing to other ethnocultural groups
and perhaps to homeworkers in other sectors.
The HWA is also seeking changes in the
law in the Province of Ontario that would allow
homeworkers to join a union of their own choice
and would give that union collective bargain-
ing rights on behalf of these workers. (Current
legislation in Ontario does not allow home-
workers to join a trade union if they work for
more than one employer.) At present, the HWA
is based in Toronto and operates very much
as part of the ILGWU. Historically there has
been a reluctance on the part of trade unions

to engage in this form of organizing. While
part of the reason is the difficulty in reach-
ing, let alone organizing these workers, the
reality is that unions have tended to view
homework as threatening to the gains that
have been made on behalf of industrial work-
ers. However, there is increased recognition
among labor organizations that this is a grow-
ing sector of the work force that appears to be
here to stay.
Even though it regards the HWA as a
trade union initiative, the ILGWU has recog-
nized that traditional trade union approaches
alone are unlikely to be effective when dealing
with homeworkers. The union has realized the
need to make a long-term commitment to this
kind of organizing because not only does it
lack a strong local base in this area, but the
women also have little or no experience with
trade unions. Yet this cadre of workers is one
that is in desperate need of assistance in or-
ganizing for fair wages, decent working con-
ditions and access to social services.

Self Employed Women's Union,
Durban, South Africa

Sophie Lamani is 59 years old and lives
in a shack in one of the townships surround-
ing the city of Durban, South Africa with her
two grandchildren. Everyday she begins sew-
ing as soon as her grandchildren leave for
school and she has cleaned the house. As
there is no electricity in her shack, she uses a
hand powered machine; only in summer, when
it stays light longer can she work late in the
Ms. Lamani sells the clothes she makes
from her home. Every weekend she puts up a
stand at the bus terminal and, once a year,
she travels to the Transkei (her rural homeland)
to sell her wares there. Ms. Lamani does not
have a problem selling what she produces; her
problem is that she does not always have
enough money to buy fabric. To make ends
meet, she also needs to do housecleaning
twice a week.
Asked if she would rather be working full
time than sewing at home, Ms. Lamani replies,
"Well one would always prefer being employed
full-time, but even if I got a job I would still con-
tinue to sew I am not educated and not young
anymore. Whatever job I could get would be

as a domestic worker and those kind of jobs
don't pay well enough for one to survive."

The Self Employed Women's Union
(SEWU) was launched in Durban, in 1994.
Based on the SEWA model-South African or-
ganizers visited Ahmedabad and, subse-
quently, a team from SEWA made a return visit
to Durban-within two years membership has
grown to 1,500 members in 25 localities.
SEWU's first activity was a study of
homebased workers in the cities of Durban and
Cape Town. They found that, as with their coun-
terparts in India, homebased work was indeed
widespread. Sixty-nine percent of randomly
selected households surveyed included at least
one homebased worker. However, unlike India,
only three percent of the workers were piece-
rated; the others were all own-account workers.
As South Africa is a multi-racial society, it is
not surprising that homebased workers in African,
colored and Indian households had different char-
acteristics. African women, having less access to
the formal sector, were more likely (71 percent) to
work at home. Among the other groups, men and
women were equally represented.

SEWU's aims are to:
Build unity between women whose
productive and subsistence work is not
Develop negotiating skills so that
women can negotiate directly with the
city council, police, small contractors
and middle-men, civic and political or-
ganizations, through their own elected
Assist with legal advice.
Assist women to solve problems of
child care, credit, lack of maternity,
sick or disability benefits.
Develop lobbying skills so that women
can organize to get laws changed if
they are not suitable to their needs.
Develop leadership skills among women
who work outside the formal sector.
Provide access for women to: skills
training, credit and loan facilities, legal
assistance, health advice and assis-
tance, and relief or counselling for sur-
vivors of violent attacks including rape.

SEWU's main activities during its first year
focused on organizational development
through meetings, leadership workshops and
skills development classes. Its first members
were women street vendors who were facing
problems of harassment from the police and
city authorities. Following SEWA's example, the
union is seeking ways to link its members with
available means of credit and thus far 120
women have benefited by taking out loans.
SEWU has also been able to provide a creche
for the children of its members.
Like SEWA, SEWU is a women-only or-
ganization and it is a union representing
women workers. It seeks to make clear that
within the informal sector, just as in the formal
sector, there are employers and there are work-
ers. And the workers-who are predominantly
female-suffer exploitation from a variety of
sources including suppliers, unscrupulous
entrepreneurs, corrupt public servants who
control their access to resources, as well as
racketeers. For this reason, SEWU believes that
workers in the informal sector have an even
greater need for union representation than
those employed in the formal sector.
In addition, because patriarchal relation-
ships are dominant in the informal sector, those

in control are primarily men and those under
control are women. It is for that reason that
SEWU is a trade union for women only. As one
member recently remarked: "It is the women
who are suffering the most. We are the ones
who carry the responsibility. Our children come
to us when they are hungry, not to their fathers.
If men want a union, they can form their own."13


The Growth of Networks

As described above, over the past twenty
years, homebased workers in a variety of set-
tings have begun to get organized and to make
their voices heard. Now, all over the world,
groups and unions are organizing, conduct-
ing research and bringing to light issues of
mutual concern. These groups and unions-
and homebased workers themselves-have
recognized, both individually and collectively,
that across all borders they have much in com-
mon, are many in number, and have a lot to
learn from one another. The various groups and
unions working with homebased workers be-

gan forging linkages in the early 1980s. At first,
as noted in the previous section, these were
across countries in the same region of the
world-South East Asia and SEWA; the UK,
the Netherlands and Portugal-with groups
working at the grassroots level offering one
another practical assistance, information, and
In Asia, field visits by women to programs
in other countries proved to be a particularly
effective method of cross-fertilization. For ex-
ample, group leaders from several women's
craft cooperatives in Northern Thailand partici-
pated in a study tour to SEWA in India. One
group leader, a bamboo and rattan worker, saw
how SEWA helped its members plan social
security, savings, and insurance schemes.
When she returned to Thailand, she explained
to her fellow cooperative members how these
operated and together they decided to work
on establishing similar schemes themselves.
As these regional networks developed,
they helped individual organizations exchange
experience; to learn and draw inspiration from
each other. Within Europe, the European
Homeworking Group was set up in 1994 to
build more formal links between those work-
ing with homebased workers in different Euro-
pean countries. Most members of the group

are from trade unions; others are from
homebased worker projects, independent or-
ganizations and church groups.
Other cross-regional field visits and con-
tacts also proved fruitful. Most notably, per-
haps, the Self-Employed Women's Union
(SEWU) in South Africa was established after
some of its founders visited India to get a first-
hand view of SEWA's work. Similarly, when the
International Ladies Garment Workers' Union
(ILGWU) realized the need to organize
homebased workers in Canada, they first
looked into the methods used in England, in-
corporating many of those strategies in the
design of their own campaign.
Ultimately these linkages have led to
campaigns for recognition and protection at
both the national and international level. An
important, but informal, mechanism for estab-
lishing these linkages was to hold international
workshops and conferences on homebased
workers. For example, SEWA organized a
panel on homebased workers at the Third
World Conference on Women in Nairobi in 1985
as well as a conference on homebased work-
ers in India in the late 1980s.
Then in 1990, in the Netherlands, home-
workers and those active with homeworkers
from both developing and developed coun-

tries, as well as researchers and representa-
tives from international bodies, met for the first
time to discuss the whole issue of homework,
including how to draw up legislation (both na-
tional and international) to improve wages and
working conditions. In fact, how to coordinate
campaigns to lobby for such legislation was
the main item of discussion at the Netherlands
In 1991, with the help of the Holdeen In-
dia Fund, SEWA brought together people from
trade unions, homeworkers' organizations, and
researchers at the biannual conference of the
Association for Women in Development. It was
there, in Washington, D.C., that the founding
of an international network was discussed. A
more formal international network was estab-
lished at a subsequent meeting in Belgium in
1994. At that meeting, all the organizations
working with homeworkers came together to
form an international network and to plan an
international campaign in preparation for the
International Labour Organisation's annual
conference to be held in June 1995, and the
Fourth World Conference on Women to be held
in Beijing in September 1995. The international
network was registered in the Netherlands as
a formal trust to be known as HomeNet.
For the first two years, the headquarters
of HomeNet has been located in England as
the network's focus in 1995-96 is on the ILO.
After the ILO campaign is over, while the fo-
cus may change, the network will go on. The
headquarters will then be shifted to the devel-
oping world, probably somewhere in Asia, and
work will continue in support of the organ-
ization's primary objective-the international
campaign to make homebased workers visible,
to recognize their contribution to the economy,
and to help them gain the legal protection ex-
tended to other sectors of the labor movement.

The ILO Recognizes

The International Labour Organisation is
the specialized agency of the United Nations
which deals with employment issues and sets
standards for international labor laws. It is a
tripartite body whose decisions are made by
representatives of governments, employers
and trade unions. In the past, the standards
set by the ILO have mainly applied to the for-

mal labor sector: that is, to workers in large-
scale, organized industries. In fact over the last
century, trade unions in industrialized coun-
tries (and their counterparts or affiliates in de-
veloping countries) have fought for bans on
homework, seeing it as a threat to organized
labor. Not surprisingly, the ILO has followed
the stance of its member trade unions and, until
recently, has: a) seen homework as a form of
cheap labor that is intrinsically exploitative and
homeworkers as too dispersed to be orga-
nized; and b) resisted recognizing home-
workers much less giving them official status
in ILO deliberations.
For the past twenty years, SEWA has
fought a long, hard campaign through official
trade union channels for the recognition of
homebased workers and for their inclusion in
the debates and programs of the ILO. As the
number of groups and unions working with
homeworkers has increased, the strength of
the SEWA-led campaign has also increased.
Largely due to this campaign, the official poli-
cies on homework of both the ILO and the in-
ternational trade union movement have shifted.
Many trade unions now advocate the organi-
zation of homeworkers and their inclusion in
union membership. As a culmination of this
remarkable shift in policy, in June 1996, the
annual conference of ILO member states is
going to vote on an international convention
on homeworkers drafted by a tripartite com-
mittee of the organization.

The ILO Convention

Because they have the power of interna-
tional law, ILO conventions have to be broad
and flexible enough to be applied in different
countries. Thus the process by which the ILO
reaches a decision on a convention by its very
nature has to be long and technical. Following
an initial agreement within the ILO Governing
Body on its importance, the Office of the ILO
submits a proposal in draft form. This proposal,
after extensive consultation with governments,
becomes the basis for discussion and voting as
part of a technical committee meeting held dur-
ing the ILO's annual conference. The next and
final step is for a full vote to be taken at a plenary
session during the ILO's annual conference the
following year. The entire process involved in
reaching this step can take several years.

In the case of the proposed home-
workers convention, the process started in
1990. Under pressure from the SEWA-led in-
ternational campaign, the ILO convened an
Expert Meeting on the conditions of home-
workers. The participants in that tripartite dis-
cussion did not agree on the need for an in-
ternational standard on homework and recom-
mended that the ILO Governing Body weigh
the significance of the issue. In late 1993, the
Governing Body agreed to put homework on
the agenda for discussion on international
standard setting.
This could not have come about without
trade union support-particularly from among
the international trade unions. The International
Union of Foodworkers (IUF) was the first to take
up the issue of homework and it has supported
the struggle for a Convention wholeheartedly
in all forums. The International Confederation
of Free Trades Unions (ICFTU) passed a reso-
lution in support of Homebased Workers in
1988. The ICFTU plays a major role at the ILO
and was primarily responsible for the issue
coming up for debate. The International Tex-
tiles, Garments and Leather Workers Federa-
tion (ITGLWF) probably has the greatest num-

bers of homeworkers within its sector and has
also given its support.
At the 1995 ILO conference, a special
technical committee made up of representatives
of employers, government and workers recom-
mended (by a narrow margin) that an interna-
tional standard should be drafted and for-
warded for a vote during the 1996 ILO confer-
ence. Following this decision, the committee
went on to consider the proposed text of the
convention. The text of the Convention is rela-
tively short and covers basic points such as:
equality of treatment with other workers; the
right to a minimum wage; social security pro-
tection; maternity benefits; health and safety
provision; protection against discrimination
and the right to organize. It also includes some
wider measures such as the inclusion of
homeworkers in labor statistics; the need for a
system of labor inspection and for regulation
of intermediaries; programs of support for ad-
vice, training and organization of homeworkers.
During the committee's deliberations, the
employers' organizations voted as a bloc
against regulation arguing that homework is
too diverse a phenomenon to be regulated by
one text, that regulation would inhibit creation
of employment and that homeworkers are cov-
ered by existing regulation in many countries.
Whereas (in a reversal of their traditional
stance), the trade unions countered these ar-
guments at every point arguing that there is
enough data on homework and enough exploi-
tation against homeworkers to justify legisla-
tion. The governments, on the other hand, ex-
pressed a range of opinions; the European
Union countries are strongly in favor of the
Convention, with the exception of Germany
and the United Kingdom.
The outcome of the two weeks of debates
over the draft convention in 1995 was a vote in
favor of the Convention (backed by a Recom-
mendation) within the Committee. The Com-
mittee's report was accepted in the plenary
session of the Conference. The final vote, af-
ter another round of detailed debate, will be
taken at the June 1996 ILO Conference. For
the proposed international standard to be
passed, a two-thirds majority of all members
of the ILO is needed. Given the unanimous
support of trade unions for the Convention and
the unanimous opposition of the employers' or-
ganizations, the deciding vote will ultimately
be cast by member governments.

Since their narrow victory in June 1995,
SEWA and other member organizations par-
ticipating in the international campaign have
continued to raise the visibility of homeworkers
and stress the need for an international stan-
dard on homework. They have lobbied gov-
ernments, publicized the issue, and informed
the public. Most importantly, of course, they
have continued to organize homeworkers to
ensure that their voices are heard.
The vote in Geneva, in June 1996, can
have an impact on the living and working con-
ditions of millions of homeworkers, in countries
all over the world, both industrialized and devel-
oping, and urban and rural areas. Yet even if the
Conference adopts the international Convention,
only half the battle will have been won! If the
Convention on homework is passed, it would,
like other ILO conventions, have the status of an
international treaty and member states of the
ILO would then decide whether to ratify the
treaty by "signing" it. So member governments
will still have to be lobbied to ensure that they
first ratify the standard and then take the mea-
sures necessary to ensure that its provisions are
translated into national law and policy.
Ratification of the Convention by mem-
ber states will not automatically improve the
pay and working conditions of homeworkers,
but it will set an international standard for mini-
mum pay and working conditions as well as
providing them with recognition as workers
who are entitled to a fair return for their labor.
Member governments will then have to be
pressured to translate the provisions of the
treaty into national law and policy.
But even then, homeworkers will still have
to be organized to ensure that they actually
receive the protection laid down by national
law. Better still, they should be involved in the
process of implementing the law; for example,
ensuring that local institutions (trade unions
and tripartite boards) are set up or restructured
to provide them with representation.
When the legislation is implemented, it
should change the whole face of the labor

movement given the sheer size of the unorga-
nized (or informal) sector which is much larger
than the organized (or formal) sector in devel-
oping countries and is growing rapidly in de-
veloped countries. It could also bring unorga-
nized workers, the majority of whom are
women, into unions in large numbers for the
first time-perhaps surpassing the number of
people previously organized. And with their
entry, the concerns and issues raised by la-
bor unions will inevitably change. The women's
movement too will be affected as the con-
sciousness of large numbers of hitherto
marginalized women will be raised. Finally, it
can be a powerful means to reduce poverty
among homeworkers, who are among the poor-
est of all workers.

1. This section draws heavily on information from Gisela
Schneider de Villegas, 1990, "Home work: A Case for Social
Protection," International Labour Review, 129(4): 423-439;
Prugl, Elisabeth "Women and Homework," submitted for pub-
lication in the Encyclopedia of Third World Women, Nell
Stromquist, Ed. (New York: Garland Publishing); and Tai Lok
Lui. 1994. Wage Work at Home: The Social Organization of
Industrial Outwork in Hong Kong, (Avebury Publishing Group,
Hants, UK).
2. Conditions of Work Digest, Home Work Volume 8, 2/1989,
ILO, Geneva).
3. Council of Europe. 1989. The Protection of Persons Working at
Home, a report prepared by the Study Group of the 1987/88
Coordinated Social Research Programme, Stasbourg, Germany.
4. Rose, Kalima. 1992. Where Women Are leaders: The SEWA
Movement in India. London: Zed Books.
5. Prugl, Elisabeth. Forthcoming. "Women and Homework" sub-
mitted for publication in the Encyclopedia of Third World
Women. Nell Stromquist, Ed. (New York Garland Publishing
6. Crummentt, Maria de los Angeles. 1988. "Rural Women and
Industrial Homework in Latin America." World Employment
Programme Research Working Paper. Geneva: International
Labor Organization.
7. Prugl, Elisabeth. Forthcoming.
8. The European Homeworking Group Report, 1995, is an un-
published report of the group's activities, written by Jane
Tate as coordinator of the group. It was based on informa-
tion collected at a meeting of the group held in Funchal,
Madeira, April 1995.
9. Jhabvala, Renana, Rahima Shaikh and SEWA Academy
Team. 1995. Wage Fixation for Home-Based Piece Rate Work-
ers. (Ahmedabad: SEWA Academy)
10. Textile, Clothing and Foorwear Union of Australia (TCFUA).
1995. The Hidden Cost of Fashion: Report on the National
Outwork Information Campaign. Carlton, Victoria, Australia.
11. Rose, Kalima. 1992.
12. Rose, Kalima. 1992.
13. Horn, Pat. 1995. "Empowering union." Sash. 37(2): 25-26.


Where to Contact HomeNet

South Asia
Self Employed Women's Association
SEWA Reception Centre
Opp. Victoria Garden
Bhadra, Ahmedabad 380001
Tel: 91 79 550 6477
91 79 550 6444
Fax: 91 79 550 6446

South East Asia
Lucy Lazo
ILO Regional Office
GPO Box 1759
Bangkok 10501
Tel: 662 288 2238
662 288 2237
Fax: 662 288 1019

Self-Employed Women's Union
P.O. Box 48621
Qualbert 4078
South Africa
Tel: 27 31 304 3042
Fax: 27 31 304 3719

The Americas
25 Cecil Street, 2nd Floor
Toronto, Ontario M5T 1N1
Tel: 1 416 977 1384
Fax: 1 416 977 6999

Jane Tate
24 Harlech Terrace
Leeds LS11 7DX
United Kingdom
Tel: 441132701119
Fax: 44 113 277 3269


The Newmletter of the Inernational ietwarl for Home-Baed Aorke I
No.l Summer 1995
o mllu morkem iy) in Ahimedr hd, Andia, uVrh 1995

Rightsfor Homeworkers

Back copies of HomeNet Newsletters 1, 2 and
3 are still available. The HomeNet bulletin is
available in English, French and Spanish. The
leaflet of the European Group is now available
in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese,
German and Italian. If you would like copies of
any of these publications, contact the UK office
of HomeNet.

Design: Ann Leonard
Photos: HomeNet
Typography: Heidi Neurauter-Orth
Printing: Graphic Impressions

Other Editions of SEEDS Currently Available
No. 2 Hanover Street: An Experiment to Train Women in Welding
and Carpentry -Jamaica (English, Spanish)
No. 3 Market Women's Cooperatives: Giving Women Credit-
Nicaragua (Spanish, French)
No. 4 Women and Handicrafts: Myth and Reality-International
(English, Spanish, French)
No. 5 The Markala Cooperative: A New Approach to Traditional
Economic Roles-Mali (French)
No. 6 The Working Women's Forum: Organizing for Credit and
Change-India (English, French)
No. 7 Developing Non-Craft Employment for Women in
Bangladesh (English, French, Spanish)
No. 8 Community Management of Waste Recycling: The SIRDO-
Mexico (English, Spanish)
No. 9 The Women's Construction Collective: Building for the
Future-Jamaica (English, Spanish)
No. 10 Forest Conservation in Nepal: Encouraging Women's
Participation (English, Spanish, French)
No. 11 Port Sudan Small Scale Enterprise Program-Sudan
No. 12 The Muek-Lek Women's Dairy Project in Thailand
No. 13 Child Care: Meeting the Needs of Working Mothers and
Their Children (English, Spanish)
No. 14 Breaking New Ground: Reaching Out to Women Farmers in
Western Zambia (English, Spanish, French)
No. 15 Self-Employment as a Means to Women's Economic Self-
Sufficiency: Women Venture's Business Development
Program (English)
No. 16 Wasteland Development and the Empowerment of Women:
The SARTHI Experience (English, French)
No. 17 Supporting Women Farmers in the Green Zones of
Mozambique (English)
If you would like additional copies of this issue or any of the edi-
tions of SEEDS listed above, please write to us at the address given
below. Copies of selected SEEDS issues in local languages are
currently being published by organizations in the following coun-
tries: Egypt, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Nepal, Pakistan, Thailand
and Vietnam. Please write to us for more information if you are
interested in these materials.

Ann Leonard, Editor
P.O. Box 3923
Grand Central Station
New York, New York 10163, U.S.A.

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