Resolution 30: Terminology

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This Fourth International Congress of StreetNet:



  1. One of the key factors maintaining the invisibility of workers in the informal economy as workers is the negative terminology widely used to describe them and their work.


  1. Terms such as “black work“, “shadow economy“, “grey work“, “scavenger“, “illegal trader” serve to negate the work done by many workers in the informal economy, and their identity and dignity as workers.  Such terms have no place in workers’ organisations, whose members are precisely the most vulnerable and exploited workers in the labour force.


  1. StreetNet International and our affiliated organisations are organising street vendors, informal market vendors and hawkers as a sector of workers in the informal economy – to strengthen their collective organisational power to change the lives of all the workers in this sector through ensuring that inclusive urban policies are adopted and implemented in as many cities around the world as possible.  They are not organised as passive victims of poverty, but as active agents of change in their own lives and working conditions. 


  1.  It is common for authorities to create divisions between informal traders by selectively issuing official trading permits.  This is a typical “divide and rule” strategy which keeps informal traders divided, and weakens their collective struggles to improve their working conditions and livelihoods.  Therefore StreetNet International does not support the elitist organisational strategy of organising only informal traders with permits – leaving those without permits marginalised to face continued persecution and harassment.


  1. Even the internationally accepted term “informal economy” is considered by some of StreetNet’s affiliates to be a negative term, regarding which we should be developing a more positive longer-term vision.  In 2010 StreetNet adopted an International Congress resolution on the development of the Social Solidarity Economy – this now guides the organisation’s approach on eliminating the decent work deficits in the informal economy in through a strategy of economic transformation. 



  1. StreetNet supports the internationally accepted notion that no worker is an “illegal worker”.  A street trader who has not been granted an official permit is not an “illegal trader”, but a “trader without a permit”.  A migrant worker whose immigration papers are not in order is not an “illegal alien”, but an “undocumented migrant worker”.  A worker who collects and sorts recyclable materials from other people’s waste is not a “scavenger”, but a “waste recycling worker”.   All workers (formal and informal, documented or undocumented, with or without official permit) are entitled to their rights as workers in accordance with the core Conventions of fundamental labour rights of the ILO (International Labour Organisation).


  1.  Where informal traders or other workers in the informal economy are working in highly exploitative conditions, the decent work deficits they experience daily have to be struggled against and eliminated – but the dignity of such struggling workers remains intact and they do not deserve to be called “illegal” or “black economy” workers, as if they were committing inherently criminal activities.


  1. StreetNet International and its members appeal to all our solidarity partners to respect the dignity of all workers, no matter how exploited and vulnerable, by using respectful language in describing them and the work they do for a living.


PROPOSED:  SLeTU, Sierra Leone



Types of document
4th International Congress