StreetNet  Plenary Speech

Speaker: Lorraine Sibanda

Dear Chair, dear delegates of this Conference!

My name is Lorraine Sibanda, I am the President of StreetNet International, a global alliance of street and market vendors with more than 20 years of existence, representing over 750 000 informal economy workers all over the world.

I would like to start by welcoming the report of the Director General of the ILO, Mr. Gilbert F. Houngbo, which clearly states that we need a new social contract that takes the needs of informal economy workers into consideration and encourages an inclusive social dialogue. It is commendable to see the informal economy taken seriously by this distinguished international organization, even if many national governments continue to pretend it does not exist.

Indeed, because street and market vendors are not legally recognized as workers, we do not have access to social protection and appropriate care services. In many countries, most street and market vendors are women, often the sole breadwinners of their families, and are forced to bring their children to work with them to sustain their livelihood, which results in their kids growing up among market stalls, often without any basic infrastructure and all of them are exposed to violence and harassment as well as to all sorts of hazards.

I myself started vending in the streets when I was only six years-old and many children accompany their parents as they work because they have no access to child care centers.

Furthermore, we also need proper health and safety services. Street and market vendors are workers in the urban public spaces but we don’t have the appropriate infrastructure for serving the public. Every day, we are exposed to infections, contaminated waste, polluted air – working in the streets is not easy, and it often costs us our health and sometimes even our lives.

Not only do we physically suffer from these poor working conditions, we are also psychologically bullied by authorities who refer to us as promoters of disease and persecute us for needing to make a living. Yet, when the COVID pandemic was raging, we quickly adapted and became public health agents, a role which was not properly recognized by governments.

Street and market vendors’ exposure to biological hazards is an issue of human and labour rights but also urban regulation. Authorities must be held accountable and ensure that these workers have access to social protection and occupational health services.

In addition, if we suffer from disability or old age, we can only count on each other, increasing the burden of care of our families and communities which are already living in difficult conditions and without any legal or social protection. Our solidarity has kept us alive but given our contribution to national economies, it is unacceptable that we have no proper care services during our lifetime. It is imperative to ensure high quality care services to all workers, including those in the informal economy, so that we can not just survive, but thrive.

We once again echo the report of the Director General stressing the importance of inclusive social dialogue, that recognizes street and market vendors as workers, so that we can ensure our health and safety.

We believe it is crucial to adopt a Convention on Biological Hazards, supplemented by a Recommendation, that explicitly lays out the responsibilities of State authorities towards self-employed workers in public spaces, such as street and market vendors as well as our fellow waste pickers.

We commend the ILO Conference for focusing on the important topics of care and biological hazards, which have such a tremendous impact on the daily life of street and market vendors. We will continue to amplify our voices in these important high level forums because there can be Nothing for Us without Us!