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75.6 million domestic workers still waiting for implementation of labour and social security laws
by ILO, WIEGO, HomeNet, Freedom United
June 2021 (ILO News)
Ten years after the adoption of an historic International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention that confirmed their labour rights, domestic workers are still fighting for recognition as workers and essential service providers.
Working conditions for many have not improved in a decade and have been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new ILO report.
At the height of the crisis, job losses among domestic workers ranged from 5-20 per cent in most European countries, as well as Canada and South Africa. In the Americas, the situation was worse, with losses amounting to 25-50 per cent. Over the same period, job losses among other employees were less than 15 per cent in most countries.
Data in the report shows that the world’s 75.6 million domestic workers have suffered significantly, which in turn has affected the households that rely on them to meet their daily care needs.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated working conditions that were already very poor, the report says. Domestic workers were more vulnerable to the fallout from the pandemic because of long-standing gaps in labour and social protection. This particularly affected the more than 60 million domestic workers in the informal economy.
“The crisis has highlighted the urgent need to formalize domestic work to ensure their access to decent work, starting with the extension and implementation of labour and social security laws to all domestic workers,” said ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder.
A decade ago the adoption of the landmark Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No. 189) was hailed as a breakthrough for the tens of millions of domestic workers around the world – most of whom are women.
Since then there has been a little progress – with a decrease of 16 percentage points in the number of domestic workers who are wholly excluded from the scope of labour laws and regulations.
However, a large number of domestic workers (36 per cent) remain wholly excluded from labour laws, pointing to the urgent need to close legal gaps, particularly in Asia and the Pacific and the Arab States, where the gaps are largest.
Even where domestic workers are covered by labour and social protection laws, implementation remains a significant issue of exclusion and informality. According to the report, only one-in-five (18.8 per cent) domestic workers enjoy effective, employment-related, social protection coverage.
Domestic work remains a female-dominated sector, employing 57.7 million women, who account for 76.2 per cent of domestic workers. While women make up the majority of the workforce in Europe and Central Asia and in the Americas, men outnumber women in Arab States (63.4 per cent) and North Africa, and make up just under half of all domestic workers in Southern Asia (42.6 per cent).
The vast majority of domestic workers are employed in two regions. About half (38.3 million) can be found in Asia and the Pacific – largely on account of China – while another quarter (17.6 million) are in the Americas.
* Access the report:
June 2021
10 years since the Domestic Workers Convention - what's changed? (Freedom United)
Ten years have passed since the adoption of the International Labour Organization’s Convention on Domestic Workers (C189), but new findings from the UN agency suggest they have seen little progress.
In a new report, the ILO finds that the working conditions and social protections for the world’s 75.6 million domestic workers have scarcely improved—and in many cases have worsened as a result of the pandemic.
The ILO’s data shows that domestic workers have been among the hardest hit by the economic damage left by COVID-19, accounting for a disproportionate number of job losses.
Many domestic workers are also migrants, meaning their subsequent personal risks can be much greater, with their housing and immigration status often directly tied to their jobs.
Meanwhile, the high rate of informal work arrangements among domestic workers already places them at higher risk of exploitation and modern slavery than the general population.
Guy Ryder, the ILO Director-General, said the pandemic has underlined the vulnerability of domestic workers and the urgent need for action.
“Informal employment is characterized by poor working conditions, a lack of protection. And so, we find that the vulnerability of many domestic workers, earning their living behind closed doors and in private households, is that vulnerability is magnified by this condition of informality,” he said.
Ryder says the crisis highlights the need to formalize domestic work to ensure their access to decent work and laws that can protect their rights.
Slow ratification of C189, the most important international law regarding domestic worker’s rights, has been a major obstacle to progress.
Although C189 was lauded as a turning point when it was adopted in 2011, so far only 30 countries have ratified it, significantly limiting its impact.
Recognizing the key role the convention plays in safeguarding domestic workers’ rights worldwide and ending domestic slavery, Freedom United has been a vocal proponent of C189.
Feb. 2021
Help End Domestic Slavery.
People leave their homes every day to find jobs as domestic workers in the cities of our countries. Women make up by far most of those working in private homes, but what’s shocking is that a quarter of domestic workers are children,1 and the majority are aged under 14, with some starting work at just five years old.
Although domestic work need not be exploitative, it is isolated and so unprotected. Combined with the worker’s extreme dependency on an employer and a lack of rights, they are especially vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.
This is particularly true for children and migrant workers. Locked inside the homes of strangers, some domestic workers find themselves caught in the nightmare of modern slavery. They are deceived by false job offers and unscrupulous employers who extract their labor under threat, preventing contact with their families, and withholding their wages. Physical punishment, as well as sexual abuse, is not uncommon in domestic servitude.
But there is a global standard to protect domestic workers. It’s called Convention 189 and it sets out measures for governments to follow to better protect them.3 29 key countries have already signed4 on however momentum has slowed since it was introduced in 2011, and we need to push our governments to act.
Call on the Government of your country to ratify Convention 189 immediately and help protect children and adults from domestic slavery.
It’s not known how many thousands, or millions, of domestic workers, including children, have been trafficked into servitude.5 Poverty, rural-urban and cross-border migration, to deep-rooted practices like sending children to live elsewhere, as well as discrimination, are all factors that contribute to trafficking into domestic servitude.
Pham Thi Dao’s Story
Pham Thi Dao left Vietnam to become a domestic worker in Saudi Arabia where she was forced to work from 5am until 1am, beaten and given little food. “As soon as I arrived at the airport in Riyadh, they (employees from a Saudi company providing domestic workers) pushed me into a room with more than a hundred of others,” she said. “When my employer picked me up later, he took my passport and employment contract. Most women I’ve talked to here experience the same thing.”
In Haiti, restaveks are children who are sent to a host family by their biological families in the hope of a better life in exchange for doing chores. However, many are forced to work without pay, beaten, starved, cut off from their families and at high risk of physical and sexual abuse.
June’s Story
June was given away by her parents aged five to become a restavek. She was sent to the capital city, Port-au-Prince, eight hours away from her hometown, Jérémie, where she would endure over ten years of abuse. Promises from host families to provide her with an education would be repeatedly broken. Today, there are over 300,000 children like June in Haiti.
Latifa’s Story
Latifa was 12 years old when she was sent to work for a family in Casablanca, Morocco’s largest city, as a petits bonnes or child domestic worker. Latifa worked 18-hour days caring for four children, cleaning and cooking without rest. She was allowed to eat at 7am and once more at midnight before going to bed, all whilst enduring physical abuse from her employer.
“I don’t mind working, but to be beaten and not to have enough food, this is the hardest part of it.” Luckily, Latifa managed to escape and rejoin her family but many of the thousands of children in domestic work in Morocco, some in domestic slavery, are trapped.
Around the world, there are tens of millions of domestic workers – millions of them children. Women make up 81% of national domestic workers and 73% of migrant domestic workers. If all domestic workers worked in one country, this country would be the tenth largest employer worldwide.
Domestic work is an important source of employment but the people behind these numbers are too often invisible behind the doors of private households and unprotected by national legislation. This allows for the worst types of abuse often amounting to modern slavery.
Tougher rules to protect domestic workers are long overdue. By sending a message to the Government of your country today you can help start a domino effect until all countries take action. 31 countries have already taken this step – will yours be next?
Countries that have ratified (as of December 2020):
Argentina, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Finland, Germany, Grenada, Guinea, Guyana, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mexico, Namibia, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Portugal, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Uruguay
* Call on your country to ratify C189 to help end domestic slavery:

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Falling Living Standards and Food Insecurity during the COVID-19 Crisis
by WFP, FAO, Innovations for Poverty Action, agencies
July 2021
There was a dramatic worsening of world hunger in 2020, the United Nations reported this week.
With a multi-agency report estimating that up to 811 million people were seriously undernourished last year.
The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2021 is the first global assessment of its kind in the pandemic era.
The report is jointly published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
Previous editions had already put the world on notice that the food security of millions – many children among them – is at stake.
“Unfortunately, the pandemic continues to threaten the lives and livelihoods of people around the world,” the heads of the five UN agencies write in this year’s Foreword.
Disturbingly, in 2020 hunger shot up in both absolute and proportional terms.
More than half of all undernourished people (418 million) live in Asia; more than a third (282 million) in Africa; and a smaller proportion (60 million) in Latin America and the Caribbean.
But the sharpest rise in hunger was in Africa, where the estimated prevalence of undernourishment – at 21 percent of the population – is more than double that of any other region.
On other measurements too, the year 2020 was sombre. Overall, more than 2.3 billion people (or 30 percent of the global population) lacked year-round access to adequate food: this indicator – known as the prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity – leapt in one year as much in as the preceding five combined.
Gender inequality deepened: for every 10 food-insecure men, there were 11 food-insecure women in 2020 (up from 10.6 in 2019).
Malnutrition persisted in all its forms, with children paying a high price: in 2020, over 149 million under-fives are estimated to have been stunted, or too short for their age; more than 45 million – wasted, or too thin for their height.
A full three-billion adults and children remained locked out of healthy diets, largely due to excessive costs. Nearly a third of women of reproductive age suffer from anaemia.
Globally, the world is not on track to achieve targets for any nutrition indicators by 2030.
In many parts of the world, the pandemic has triggered brutal recessions and jeopardized access to food.
Yet even before the pandemic, hunger was spreading; progress on malnutrition lagged. This was all the more so in nations affected by conflict, climate extremes or other economic downturns, or battling high inequality – all of which the report identifies as major drivers of food insecurity, which in turn interact.
On current trends, The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World estimates that Sustainable Development Goal 2 (Zero Hunger by 2030) will be missed by a margin of nearly 660 million people.
Transforming food systems is essential to achieve food security, improve nutrition and put healthy diets within reach of all the report highlights.
Six “transformation pathways” to counteract hunger and malnutrition drivers.
Depending on the particular driver (or combination of drivers) confronting each country, the report urges policymakers to:
Integrate humanitarian, development and peacebuilding policies in conflict areas – for example, through social protection measures to prevent families from selling meagre assets in exchange for food;
Scale up climate resilience across food systems – for example, by offering smallholder farmers wide access to climate risk insurance and forecast-based financing;
Strengthen the resilience of the most vulnerable to economic adversity – for example, through in-kind or cash support programmes to lessen the impact of pandemic-style shocks or food price volatility;
Intervene along supply chains to lower the cost of nutritious foods – for example, by encouraging the planting of biofortified crops or making it easier for fruit and vegetable growers to access markets;
Tackle poverty and structural inequalities – for example, by boosting food value chains in poor communities through technology transfers and certification programmes;
Strengthen food environments and changing consumer behaviour – for example, by eliminating industrial trans fats and reducing the salt and sugar content in the food supply, or protecting children from the negative impact of food marketing.
The report also calls for an “enabling environment of governance mechanisms and institutions” to make transformation possible. It enjoins policymakers to consult widely; to empower women and youth; and to expand the availability of data and new technologies.
Above all, the authors urge, the world must act now – or watch the drivers of hunger and malnutrition recur with growing intensity in coming years, long after the shock of the pandemic has passed.
Gilbert Houngbo, president of Ifad, said enough food was being produced to feed everyone and the crisis was a failure of the food system to meet people's needs.
“It is clear that, unfortunately, the pandemic continues to threaten the lives and livelihoods of people around the world, particularly the most vulnerable and those living in countries affected by conflict, climate change and inequality,” he said.
Houngbo said the pandemic had underlined the importance of investing in rural areas, which have suffered some of the worst effects of poverty and the climate crisis, as well as conflicts that can both be fuelled by hunger and cause it.
He said small-scale farmers were the most reliable suppliers of food and should receive more investment to help reduce hunger.
He said the growing shift towards local food production in some African countries was encouraging.
“In some of the world’s poorest countries, agriculture has the potential to become a thriving and successful sector that feeds its communities, creates jobs and provides economic and livelihood benefits,” he said.
UNICEF Director Henrietta Fore: "The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted — and continues to disrupt — all of the systems related to good nutrition. From food and health, to social protection programmes for families who are suffering financially.
"This means that millions of children are still struggling to access the nutritious and safe diets they need to grow, develop and learn to their full potential.
"For example, a national survey in Indonesia found that 31 per cent of households reported food shortages, compared to just three per cent in the previous year. And 38 per cent reported eating less than usual, compared to just five per cent the previous year. We’re seeing similar findings around the world".
In a UNICEF survey, 90 per cent of 135 countries reported a decline in coverage of essential nutrition services during the pandemic — and on average, 40 per cent of the world’s basic nutrition services were disrupted.
"The pandemic alone is not to blame for the food and nutrition crisis. As this year’s report reminds us, conflicts, climate change and economic recessions are also driving food and malnutrition insecurity and threatening the resilience of food systems, which are the cornerstone of good nutrition".
"Famines should be consigned to history, yet in multiple countries they loom again.. Poverty is shrinking incomes and placing nutritious, safe, and diverse foods and diets out-of-reach for millions of children and families.
"In 2020, an estimated 149 million, or more than 1 in 5 children under 5 years of age were suffering from stunting. And 45 million were suffering from wasting".
"We need to build the resilience of local food systems to external shocks, such as conflict and climate change, that leave communities across the world vulnerable to malnutrition".
“The report highlights a devastating reality: the path to Zero Hunger is being stopped dead in its tracks by conflict, climate and COVID-19,” said WFP Executive Director David Beasley.
Children’s future potential “is being destroyed by hunger”, he insisted. “The world needs to act to save this lost generation before it’s too late.”
Jean-Michel Grand, director of Action Against Hunger UK, said: “Every year global hunger levels rise and every year it seems the international community kicks the can further down the road. What percentage of the world’s population needs to be going hungry before governments start to take this issue seriously?
Will we have to wait until famines are widespread? Because this is an inevitable consequence if we continue to mishandle and underfund this issue".
Food security indicators
World hunger increased in 2020 under the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic. After remaining virtually unchanged for five years, the prevalence of undernourishment (PoU) increased from 8.4 to around 9.9 percent in just one year.
It is projected that 811 million people in the world experienced hunger in 2020. That is 161 million more than in 2019.
Hunger affects 21.0 percent of the population in Africa, compared with 9.0 percent in Asia and 9.1 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean.
In terms of numbers, more than half of the world’s undernourished are found in Asia (418 million) and more than one-third in Africa (282 million).
While the global prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity (measured using the Food Insecurity Experience Scale) has been slowly on the rise since 2014, the estimated increase in 2020 was equal to that of the previous five years combined.
Nearly one in three people in the world (2.37 billion) did not have access to adequate food in 2020 – an increase of almost 320 million people in just one year.
The sharpest increases in moderate or severe food insecurity in 2020 occurred in Latin America and the Caribbean and in Africa.
In Northern America and Europe, food insecurity increased for the first time since the beginning of FIES data collection in 2014.
Of the 2.37 billion people facing moderate or severe food insecurity, half (1.2 billion) are found in Asia, one-third (799 million) in Africa, and 11 percent (267 million) in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Close to 12 percent of the global population was severely food insecure in 2020, representing 928 million people – 148 million more than in 2019.
At the global level, the gender gap in the prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity has grown even larger in the year of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity being 10 percent higher among women than men in 2020, compared with 6 percent in 2019.
The high cost of healthy diets coupled with persistent high levels of income inequality put healthy diets out of reach for around 3 billion people, especially the poor, in every region of the world in 2019.
Notably, Africa and Latin America show an increase in the unaffordability of heathy diets between 2017 and 2019, but it is likely that increases will be seen in most regions in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
June 2021
COVID-19 Data Explorer: Global Humanitarian Operations Monthly Highlights. (OCHA)
Food prices are at their highest in almost a decade and severe outbreaks of COVID-19 risk further deteriorating food insecurity.
The FAO Food Price Index averaged 127 points in May, an increase of almost 40 per cent from the same period last year and the twelfth consecutive monthly rise to its highest level since September 2011.
In comparing the cost of a food basket over the past three months (March-May) to the same period in the past five years, the cost is at least 30 per cent higher in 11 Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) countries with the cost being 6 times more in Sudan (534%) and Syria (531%) and almost three times more in South Sudan (174%).
With 110 million people in acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 3 or above) in HRP countries at the end of June, the spread of COVID-19 and subsequent public health and social measures further risk deteriorating food insecurity.
On 12 July, the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (2021) will be released, detailing the devastating impact of the pandemic on hunger and food insecurity in 2020.
The most vulnerable people in the world are experiencing a successive and more severe wave of the pandemic this year with less capacity to cope and, for many, an alarming state of hunger. With the food security sector of the Global Humanitarian Overview (GHO) only 30 per cent funded, and the nutrition sector less than 20 percent funded, it is critical funding for food assistance is urgently scaled up.
Feb. 2021
Falling Living Standards and Food Insecurity during the COVID-19 Crisis, report from Innovations for Poverty Action
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic caused a sharp decline in living standards and rising food insecurity in developing countries across the globe, according to a new study by an international team of economists.
The study, published Feb. 5 in the journal Science Advances, provides an in-depth view of the health crisis’s initial socioeconomic effects in low- and middle-income countries, using detailed microdata collected from tens of thousands of households across nine countries. The phone surveys were conducted from April through July 2020 of nationally and sub-nationally representative samples in Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Colombia, Ghana, Kenya, Nepal, Philippines, Rwanda, and Sierra Leone. Across the board, study participants reported drops in employment, income, and access to markets and services, translating into high levels of food insecurity. Many households reported being unable to meet basic nutritional needs.
“COVID-19 and its economic shock present a stark threat to residents of low- and middle-income countries—where most of the world’s population resides—which lack the social safety nets that exist in rich countries,” said economist Susan Athey, of Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. “The evidence we’ve collected show dire economic consequences, including rising food insecurity and falling income, which, if left unchecked, could thrust millions of vulnerable households into poverty.”
Across the 16 surveys, the percentage of respondents reporting losses in income ranged from 8% in Kenya to 86% in Colombia. The median, or midpoint of the range, was a staggering 70%. The percentage reporting loss of employment ranged from 6% in Sierra Leone to 51% in Colombia with a median of 29%.
“Painting a comprehensive picture of the economic impact of this global crisis requires the collection of harmonized data from all over the world,” said Edward Miguel, the Oxfam Professor of Environmental and Resource Economics at the University of California, Berkeley, Director of the Center for Effective Global Action, and a co-author of the study. “Our work is an exciting example of fruitful collaboration among research teams from UC Berkeley, Northwestern, Innovations for Poverty Action, The Busara Center for Behavioral Economics in Kenya, Yale, and many others working in multiple countries simultaneously to improve our understanding of how COVID-19 has affected the living standards of people in low- and middle-income countries on three continents.”
Significant percentages of respondents across the surveys reported being forced to miss meals or reduce portion sizes, including 48% of rural Kenyan households, 69% of landless, agricultural households in Bangladesh, and 87% of rural households in Sierra Leone — the highest level of food insecurity. Poorer households generally reported higher rates of food insecurity, though rates were substantial even among the better off. The steep rise in food insecurity reported among children was particularly alarming given the potentially large negative long-run effects of under-nutrition on outcomes later in life, according to the study.
Survey results from Bangladesh and Nepal suggest that levels of food insecurity were far higher during the pandemic than during the same season in previous years. In most countries, a large share of respondents reported reduced access to markets, consistent with lockdowns and other restrictions on mobility implemented between March and June 2020 to contain the spread of the virus. The amount of social support available to respondents from governments or non-governmental organizations varied widely across the surveys, but the high rates of food insecurity reported suggest that support was insufficient even when present, the researchers state.
The study shows that in addition to increasing food insecurity, the pandemic and accompanying containment measures have undermined several other aspects of household wellbeing. Schools in all sample countries were closed during most or all of the survey period. Respondents also reported reduced access to health services, including prenatal care and vaccinations. Combined, these factors could be particularly damaging to children, in the long run, the researchers note.
“The pandemic’s economic shock in these countries, where so many people depend on casual labor to feed their families, causes deprivations and adverse consequences in the long term, including excess mortality,” said study co-author Ashish Shenoy, of the University of California, Davis. “Our findings underscore the importance of gathering survey data to understand the effects of the crisis and inform effective policy responses. We demonstrate the efficacy of large-scale phone surveys to provide this crucial data.”
Current circumstances may call for social protection programs that prioritize addressing immediate poverty and under-nutrition before tackling deeper underlying causes, the researchers state. They suggest policymakers consider identifying poor households using mobile phones and satellite data and then provide them mobile cash transfers. The researchers also recommend providing support for basic utilities, such as water and electricity, through subsidies and by removing penalties for unpaid bills. They note a fundamental link between containing COVID-19 and providing economic relief as households facing acute shortages may be less willing than others to follow social distancing rules so that they can find opportunities to meet basic needs.
* Researchers on the study represent the following institutions: University of California, Berkeley and the Center for Effective Global Action; The World Bank; Innovations for Poverty Action; University of California, Davis; Northwestern University, Global Poverty Lab and the Kellogg School of Management; Yale University and Y-RISE; University of Basel, Switzerland; Princeton University; Busara Center for Behavioral Economics, Nairobi, Kenya; Stanford University; WZB Berlin Social Science Center; Columbia University; London School of Economics and Political Science, International Growth Centre; Vyxer Remit Kenya, Busia, Kenya; American University; University of Goettingen, Germany; Harvard University; and Wageningen University, Netherlands.

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