UNICAB Brazil succeeds in formalizing street vendors in Porto Alegre

By Irene Doda
February 9, 2024
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StreetNet’s affiliate in Brazil, UNICAB, has been the protagonist of a historic struggle for a policy for the recognition of workers in the informal economy. The Municipal Council Chamber of Porto Alegre has approved the “Project of Law 042/23”, that uses the ILO Recommendation 204 as its legal and political framework. 

Protesting against the criminalisation of street vendors

In September 2023, the municipality of Porto Alegre, administered by the right wing, began to prosecute street vendors in an increasingly intense manner. The evictions and the criminalization of the workers happened specifically in the historical center. 

Since 2019, Recommendation 204 has been a crucial part of the advocacy strategy of UNICAB. The association was able to effectively negotiate with the authorities thanks to a well-established presence in the territory and respected position in the eyes of the authorities. UNICAB began to mobilize vendors against the evictions. After one public protest, the authorities agreed to sit down with UNICAB to develop a new policy in favor of the workers, starting a negotiation process that lasted almost 3 months. 

According to Juliano Fripp, one of the leaders of UNICAB who undertook the negotiations: “For the first time, we managed to get the Prefecture to understand the importance of R204, and they understood that it is a good basis for policy – which meant that they were recognising the need for the transition to the formal economy, and after months of so many conversations, dialogues, negotiating and negotiating, we arrived to this agreement”.

The ILO instrument for formalization: R204

R204 is a International Labour Organisation Recommendation. Unlike Conventions, which are formal international treaties subjected to the ratification of national Parliaments, Recommendations are not legally binding documents. However, they are important guidelines and standards for workers worldwide. R204 covers the transition from the informal to the formal economy and was approved in 2015. As stated in the first article, one of the objectives of the recommendation is to “facilitate the transition of workers and economic units from the informal to the formal economy, while respecting workers’ fundamental rights and ensuring opportunities for income security, livelihoods and entrepreneurship”. During its 7th International Congress, StreetNet approved a Resolution aimed at supporting the advocacy work to incorporate R204 in national and local policies. 

Vendors during the protests in Porto Alegre

The challenge of formalization

The question of just formalization and how to achieve it is one of the most discussed in the informal economy workers’ movement. Formalizing jobs and activities undertaken informally means achieving not only recognition, but also gaining access to labour standards, including social protection. Specifically for street vendors, formalizing their work translates into a series of rights that pertain with the free use of public space, the access to easy registration procedure and a fair and transparent taxation process. 

A closer look at the Brazilian policy

Project of Law 042/23 will be implemented first for a limited number of vendors. It will provide them with a space for vending and permission to work within specific areas of the historic center. It will soon be extended to 172 vendors. It will also provide them with a stipend up to 1500 reais (around 300 US dollars) and facilitate access to credit up to 15.000 reais, to support the formalization of their business.

The longer-term projection is that in a subsequent stage of the transition it will also provide a building in the center of Porto Alegre, which will be administered by the vendors on a cooperative model and provide spaces for them to sell without the threat of eviction and harassment. 

Vendors in Porto Alegre

The central role of R204

The recognition and direct inclusion of R204 in the local policy is an excellent example of how international instruments and policies of the ILO can be integrated into advocacy strategies at every level of negotiation. “It is so important for us, because it means that as street vendors are for the first time being recognised as a category of workers” Comrade Juliano continues to explain. “It is the first time we have had that recognition, and this recognition is the starting point for the policy. Ultimately, it is a recognition of the need for regularization of these workers. The policy seeks to recognise and regularize vendors as workers. This hadn’t happened before”.