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Tuesday, November 17 • 09:00 - 10:15
Informality: How to approach “the elephant in the room”?

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Session organized by the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights in collaboration with International Labour Organization

Interpretation in English, French and Spanish will be available

Brief description of the session:
Under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), all business enterprises – irrespective of their nature in terms of size, sector, location, ownership and structure – have a responsibility to respect human rights. So far, large enterprises in the formal economy and their supply chains have been the primary focus of initiatives aimed at implementing the UNGPs. However, activities in the informal economy (e.g., those by micro and small enterprises, family-run businesses, informal workers working for informal and formal businesses) are a major part of the global economy, especially in developing countries. This session will discuss current barriers and potential solutions to embed the UNGPs in the informal economy in support of the decent work agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals. It will consider various potential pathways to achieve these goals, including the role of incentives to facilitate a transition to formality for both workers and enterprises.

Key specific objectives of the session:
This session aims to:
  • Discuss human rights challenges in in the informal economy and identify ways to overcome these challenges; 
  • Analyse the role of States and other stakeholders in facilitating a transition to formality;
  • Explore how international organizations can work with all relevant stakeholders to identify and address existing barriers to decent work and to facilitate transitions to formality;
  • Share good practices aimed at improving the rights of workers and reducing decent work deficits in the informal economy; and
  • Discuss how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected informal workers and informal economic units and what measures could be taken to avoid similar challenges in future.  

Key questions:
  • What incentives should States offer to promote the UNGPs by actors that reduce decent work deficits and support transitions to formality?
  • What is the role of business enterprises in promoting the respect for rights of informal workers directly linked to their products or services?
  • In addition to formalization, are there other strategies which can reduce decent work deficits among informal workers in short, medium and long terms?
  • What lessons can we draw from how informal workers were impacted disproportionately by COVID-19?
  • How are informal workers likely to be affected by newer challenges such as climate change and automation? What should be done now to overcome those challenges?

Background to the discussion:
Informality is an integral part of the global economy. As per ILO estimates, two billion women and men (aged fifteen and over) work informally, representing more than 60 per cent of the world’s employed population. Moreover, about 81 per cent of the world’s economic units are informal. These informal enterprises tend to be for the most part small economic units: micro enterprises and small enterprises (including those without employees), and family-run businesses.

Informality puts the enjoyment of a full range of human rights and the protection of workers at stake: from the right to minimum wage, to occupational health and safety, right to health, adequate standards of living, rights of women and children, right to education, access to social security, protection from arbitrary or unlawful dismissal, freedom of association, right to collective bargaining, and access to effective remedies. Moreover, informal workers become more vulnerable in situations like the COVID-19 pandemic, with States’ relief measures in most cases unable to reach them. In this context, it becomes vital to address decent work deficits in the informal economy in line with the UNGPs, the ILO Tripartite Declaration of Principles concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy, and other international standards.

Additional background documents (pdf format) or relevant links:

The session will help inform the WG’s project ‘Business and human rights: towards a decade of global implementation' (also known as “UNGPs 10+ / Next Decade BHR”). Centred around the upcoming tenth anniversary of the UNGPs in 2021, the project is taking stock of practice to date, identifying gaps and challenges, and developing a vision and roadmap for scaling up implementation of the UNGPs over the course of the next decade.

avatar for Surya Deva

Surya Deva

Vice-Chair, UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights

avatar for Victor Van Vuuren

Victor Van Vuuren

OIC ADG for Jobs and Protection, International Labour Organization
Victor has a Law Degree. Worked as prosecutor and magistrate and then moved into the private sector as a corporate legal advisor and human resources director at executive level in large corporates. He helped establish a unified South African business federation and was appointed as... Read More →
avatar for Marlese von Broembsen

Marlese von Broembsen

Law Programme Director, Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO)
I am the Law Programme Director for Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO). WIEGO is an research-advocacy network that supports representative organisations of informal workers, especially women, to gain legal and social protection at the national and international... Read More →

Trinanjan Radhakrishnan

Coordinator-Responsible Supply Chain & Sustainable Development, Oxfam India
My work focusses on the intersections of responsible business conduct and the SDGs. At Oxfam India, I coordinate the Private Sector Engagement programme's work on tea and sugar supply and value chains in India. Using data-driven, evidence-backed research, Oxfam India advocates on... Read More →
avatar for Lorraine Sibanda

Lorraine Sibanda

President, Zimbabwe Chamber of Informal Economy Association
Lorraine Sibanda is the current President of Zimbabwe Chamber of Informal Economy Associations (ZCIEA) and StreetNet International. She is based in Gwanda which is about 590 kilometres south of Harare, Zimbabwe. Her life line business is cross border trading and goat farming. Prior... Read More →
avatar for Douglas Opio

Douglas Opio

Executive Director, Federation of Uganda Employers (FUE)
Douglas Opio is the Executive Director of the Federation of Uganda Employers. He is an employment and labour market professional who works with businesses of all sizes and sectors. As a strong business advocate he works closely with the International Labour Organization (ILO) and... Read More →
avatar for Innocence Ntap Ndiaye

Innocence Ntap Ndiaye

President, Haut Conseil du Dialogue Social du Sénégal
Madame Innocence NTAP NDIAYE est présentement le Président du Haut Conseil du Dialogue Social du Sénégal.Cette position d’état qu’elle occupe depuis février 2015 vient confirmer l’aboutissement d’un parcoursprofessionnel riche et varié.Diplômée en Sciences juridiques... Read More →

Tuesday November 17, 2020 09:00 - 10:15 CET
Plenary Room