One of poor people’s greatest assets is their ability to work. Yet most of the world’s poor work in the informal economy in badly paid jobs, struggling to carve out a decent living.
With this in mind, UNDP’s legal empowerment of the poor work encourages more inclusive labour standards and rights – both nationally and internationally – while advocating for more productive and decent jobs.
Internationally-agreed labour standards cover a number of vital issues that feature prominently in efforts to legally empower the poor:
- the freedom of association and protection of the right to form and join trade unions;
- the elimination of forced or compulsory labour in all its forms; - just and favourable conditions of work;
- the elimination of discrimination in access to employment, training and working conditions;
- equal pay for men and women for work of equal value;
- the abolition of child labour.
Despite a long-standing commitment by all countries to these rights and standards, a large majority of workers remain excluded.
Ensuring decent work for the world’s poor is another vital component of legal empowerment, from investing in creating a secure workplace to equal opportunities and treatment for all women and men.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that over 600 million working poor people who earn less than $1.25 a day toil in the informal economy, unable to lift themselves and their families out of poverty. It is important to recognize that it is not the informality but the nature of their activity that is often the cause of their poverty: if people were able to earn more from their work – formally or informally - poverty would decline. While most international labour standards are applicable to workers in the informal economy, their enforcement by countries that lack capacity is often weak or non-existent.
Rights to Livelihood & Entrepreneurship
Micro-entrepreneurs, small business owners, vendors and others who are self-employed contribute significantly to the economy in many countries. Yet to varying degrees, they tend to operate outside of formal legal regulation and protection, lacking adequate access to the advantages of formal business and financial support systems. Informality is often linked to legal and political vulnerability, which can limit people's and communities' opportunities for economic and social development. The rights and protection required to support self-employment, start businesses and become a micro-entrepreneur - as derived from existing political, civil, economic and social rights - are essential to the livelihoods of poor people. An effective legal system and local government institutions as well as more open, accountable, and legitimate services are key for a more inclusive society.
There should, however, be no presumption that the poor only want to become entrepreneurs and that they are not risk averse. Micro-entrepreneurship and self-employment is often not a question of choice, but a function of a lack of other options.