Synthesis Documents

Informal Workers in Global Horticulture and Commodities Value Chains: A Review of the Literature, by Man-Kwun Chan, WIEGO, 2013

    This paper presents and analyzes the key findings from a comprehensive review of value chain-related studies on the commodities and horticulture sectors, focusing on what this literature reveals about the conditions of informal workers. The literature review was underpinned by two key research questions. Firstly, what are the roles and conditions of informal workers in these chains, and what policies, actions and research are needed to improve their conditions? Secondly, to what extent does the value chain approach (as applied in existing literature) incorporate a labour perspective, and how can the value chain approach be strengthened to better incorporate the interests of informal workers?
    Overall, 49 value chain-related studies and resources were identified and reviewed.

    Summary of results
    The literature revealed some important general patterns and trends regarding the conditions of informal workers in the focus value chains. First and foremost, all types of informal workers face substantial constraints and experience working conditions that are far from ideal. Moreover, the evidence unfortunately does not point to substantial improvements in conditions for the majority of these workers over the last 10-15 years. In addition, the literature makes it clear that informality is the norm rather than the exception: informal workers make up the majority of the workforce, even in formal enterprises. All types of informal workers were also found to be very vulnerable to changes in market conditions, and overall, women informal workers tend to experience worse conditions than their male counterparts.

    While these cross-cutting patterns were observed across all worker categories, most constraints were found to be quite specific to each type of informal worker. Thus, for workers in formal enterprises, the main concern is the disparity between the conditions of informal as compared to formal workers and the weaker legal protection afforded to the former group. In the case of smallholders, the key issues were found to be the exclusion of the majority of smallholders from global value chains (GVCs), and the limited returns
    experienced by many of those who are engaged in GVCs. In contrast, hired workers on smallholder farms faced a different range of issues including poor wages, poor health and safety standards, inadequate leave entitlements, and gender discrimination. For contributing family labour, the key concern was the fact that they were providing much of the labour on smallholder export farms, yet receiving little of the rewards from GVC engagement.

    Therefore, to reflect these distinct constraints, most policy recommendations arising from the literature review are specific to one of the four categories of worker. Nevertheless, two cross-cutting recommendations are important. Firstly, value chain programmes must systematically include all categories of workers as key stakeholders and target beneficiaries as a matter of course: this is critical not only from a workers’ rights perspective, but also from a poverty reduction and gender equity perspective. Secondly, international food sourcing companies need to review and revise their purchasing practices, in order to reduce the continued pressure on suppliers/employers to downgrade working conditions for all categories of worker.