Addressing risks facing informal workers

Project
Active
April 2018

IIED and partners are assessing the occupational, environmental and public health risks faced by workers in the informal economy. This project will also explore responses to these risks with workers in India, while also helping to build their resilience to climate change.

Home workers making bouquets (Photo: Siddharth Agarwal/UHRC)

Informal settlements in urban areas are often sites of dynamic economic activity, but there is limited understanding of the multiple health risks faced by people working in informal settlements and others working in the informal economy. This project will examine the multiple health risks facing informal workers, and we will partner with workers to develop effective, inclusive responses in India, and potentially in Zimbabwe.  

Background

Throughout the global South, a vibrant informal economy contributes significantly to economic growth and urban livelihoods. But informal workers lack key protections: working conditions are often poor and unregulated, while occupational health and safety is overlooked.

Informal workers tend to have lower incomes and less training than formal workers, as well as more limited access to healthcare and protective equipment. Although comprising most of the labour force in Indian and African cities, informal workers usually remain invisible to policymakers and are rarely included in health or urban development strategies. 

In addition, many informal settlements are located on poor-quality land and lack adequate shelter or infrastructure, making residents and workers more vulnerable to climate change impacts such as extreme heat, storms or flooding.

What is IIED doing?

This project will assess and respond to the complex occupational health and safety risks of informal workers in India.  

In India, we are working with the Urban Health Resource Centre (UHRC), a non-profit organisation that works closely with residents of informal settlements to promote health and nutrition. UHRC has provided technical support on health and nutrition to local, state and national officials as well as NGOs. 

We will undertake research in Indore, a city of 2m people and Madhya Pradesh's commercial capital. Although Indore is a successful industrial hub, many residents have precarious informal livelihoods and half the population lives in slums. The city is in a drought-prone area and faces severe water stress. Our research will focus on informal workers working in factories, street vending, construction, brick kilns, and home-based workers as well as their family members. 

UHRC has strong links to women’s groups in Indore’s informal settlements, and these groups will help to implement our action-research, outreach and advocacy activities.

Research focus

IIED and partners are beginning with a wide-ranging literature review to draw together what is known about occupational health and safety within the informal economy. This will be followed by community-based and participatory action research to assess informal workers’ key health determinants and health outcomes. This will also explore how these will or may be influenced by current and projected impacts of climate change. 

Research questions:

  1. What are the key health determinants and health outcomes for informal workers and those living in informal settlements?
  2. What is the interaction between these in relation to public health, occupational health and environmental health?
  3. How do the current and projected impacts of climate change affect this interaction?
  4. What approaches are being used by informal workers to mitigate risks and enhance benefits?

These findings will be used to develop worker-led initiatives to address risks, strengthen assets and promote public, environmental and occupational health, while also enhancing their resilience to climate change. We will engage regularly with local authorities, community representatives, and other stakeholders to develop strategies for improving workers’ health and livelihoods.

Our recommendations will be also shared widely with government officials, interdisciplinary researchers and urban practitioners in the global South and global North.  

Our findings, advocacy and capacity-building activities all seek to ensure that informal workers can thrive even in the face of occupational, climate-related and environmental health risks.

Additional resources

Climate change, health and well-being for cities and informal settlements: a panel discussion with Siddharth Agarwal (UHRC), Sari Kovats (LSHTM), and David Satterthwaite (IIED), audio recording (80 minutes) 

Donors

National Institute for Health Research

This research was commissioned by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), Global Health Research Group using UK aid from the UK Government. The views expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care.

NIHR, UK Aid logos

 

Training and Research Support Centre (TARSC)

Urban Health Resource Centre (UHRC)

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