Chapter 10: Formalisation from the ground: the case of waste pickers' cooperatives
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The advancement of neo-liberalism has informed discourses and practices based on the assumption that government authorities should not or are not capable of assuming the main responsibility of protecting people’s livelihoods. Individuals and communities are increasingly pressured to rely on their own resources to confront hardships. There is a strong body of literature on cooperation models between workers, or between workers, employers, and/or governments. While cooperatives and co-production models often can be associated with the neo-liberalisation agenda, there are also examples of transformative experiences in the waste sector. In many developing cities, in the absence of municipal recycling systems, waste pickers’ organisations have been formed and have been fighting for integration into waste management schemes. By doing so, they complement the formal solid waste systems with a cooperative system based on recovery of recyclable materials. In this chapter we draw from three cases in which waste picker cooperatives are engaged as service providers in solid waste management and also from scholarship on waste governance and co-production with the aim of contributing to the body of scholarship on models of formalisation of the informal waste workers. We claim that waste pickers play a key role in urban metabolism and their organisations have been able to shape alternative routes for creation of green jobs and formalisation routes through their struggles for social protection, for decent work, and for acknowledgement as service providers in municipal recycling schemes. Cooperatives carry out a social function by avoiding socio-economic exclusion, they provide a public health service as service providers in urban solid waste systems, and they are key economic actors in the recycling chain. Given these contributions it is important to analyse waste pickers’ cooperatives under a multidimensional approach and to frame comprehensive policies and regulations that can strengthen coops’ role in furthering decent work. We argue that cooperatives can contribute to decent work by: tackling social and economic exclusion of marginalised groups; creating ways to extend social protection for informal workers; playing a role in enhancing channels of social dialogue and political negotiations; contributing to rights at work by helping in the mitigation of economically vulnerable and physically risky work conditions; and being a source for building women’s empowerment.

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Edited by Jacques Charmes