Frances Moore Lappe: INFORMAL JOBS IN THE THIRD WORLD, i.e.  Creating Real Prosperity - Critics of "go local" movements warn that buying local deprives people in the Global South of jobs that could lift them out of poverty. But are (those jobs that exist down south,) i.e. the multinationals ---really helping? There's only one thing worse for the poor in the Global South, we're told, than a job in a sweatshop: It's the alternative--no job. That's basically what New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof argued recently. If true, then "buy local" campaigns in the North that cut imports  could harm the planet's poorest people. But before accepting this heart-rending story, let's ground ourselves in the real global economy. Shedding corporate-media filters, we see that the poor are not languishing in their sad villages and grimy shantytowns just waiting to be saved by corporate giants from abroad. Many poor people are themselves creating the real job growth in much of the Global South. They are the small shopkeepers, street vendors, and home-based workers whose jobs make up what's called the "informal economy" not counted by authorities. (and the GUERILLA CAPITALISM WEBSITE suggest that WE ALL JOIN THEM as we are all third world! )

In Latin America, 85 percent of new jobs created during the 1990s were in this sector, not the
corporate one. Informal jobs account for more than half of all jobs in Latin America and the
Caribbean, and as much as 80 percent in parts of Asia and in Africa.1

"The informal economy is anything corporations can't make money on,' social entrepreneur Josh
Mailman quipped to me recently. 'That's why it's invisible.'

Many of the jobs the poor are creating are not what the wealthy minority abroad might
imagine--one individuals scrambling, say, to power a pedicab in Dhaka or sell fruit on streets
of Caracas.

Millions are working together, through
microcredit institutions and people's movements,
to further both economic and social goals. Among
the biggest are Bangladesh's largely
self-financing Grameen Bank, BRAC (formerly the
Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee), and the
Association for Social Advancement, whose
combined microloans have gone to roughly 16
million poor people, mostly women, enabling many
to create their own village-level enterprises.2

Grameen-mostly owned by its borrowers--reports
that more than half the families of its borrowers
have "crossed the poverty line." Assuming
Bangladesh's other two large micro-credit efforts
come close to this success rate, rural
Bangladeshis' self-directed initiatives have
freed more than four times as many from poverty
as the number employed in export garment
factories, where insecure jobs offer 8 to 18
cents an hour.

Overall, the number of microcredit users
worldwide--many of whom are creating their own
work--is roughly four times the 23-million people
directly employed by all multinational

BRAC alone employs almost 100,000 people, not in
order to return a profit to an investor but, as
BRAC says, "with the twin objectives of poverty
alleviation and empowerment of the poor." With
its members' groups now in more than 140,000
Bangladeshi village organizations, BRAC is
creating not only health services and schooling
but its own small enterprises, to--from fisheries
to printing to a tissue-culture lab to an iodized
salt plant. They operate mostly for local
consumption and are controlled by BRAC itself.

We citizens of the North think of global capital
as the only jobs-generator. But more people in
the world are members of cooperatives--around 800
million--than own shares in publicly traded
companies.3 Many are helping build locally
controlled economies. Over the last three
decades, women in India have, for example, built
a network of cooperative dairies raising the
incomes of more than 11 million households.4
Compare that to the 1 to 2 million jobs created
by the high-tech corporate sector in India.5

Worldwide, co-op membership doubled in the last
30 years, according to the Geneva-based
International Co-operative Alliance. In Colombia,
the Saludcoop health care cooperative is the
nation's second largest employer, providing
services to a quarter of the population.6

And to those who still see global capital as the
poor's savior, I am tempted to respond, "Let's
get real!" Even if it were a path to real
advancement, U.S. direct investment in the
poorest continent, Africa, is close to zilch
anyway--representing about 1 percent of all U.S.
direct investments abroad.7

Benefits for North and South

Relocalizing economies in the North isn't an
all-or-nothing proposition. Importing tropical
products like coffee and bananas from the Global
South makes sense, as does importing artisanal
goods, linking cultures by spreading beauty and
appreciation of difference. The real challenge is
ensuring that exports don't undermine basic food
security and that producers for export get a fair

That means, in part, expanding the fair trade
movement, which is already making a huge
difference in the lives of over 1 million farmers
and farm workers. It also means challenging
monopoly power among food processors as well as
encouraging more local processing so that a
bigger share of the end-value stays in producer
communities.8 (Today, just a tenth of the value
of coffee stays in coffee-producing countries,
down from almost a third of the value just ten
years ago.)9

Getting serious about ending poverty in the
Global South does not mean abetting the reach of
global corporations. Instead, we can work to
remove the barriers that U.S. corporate-driven
policies place in the way of thriving local
economies abroad´┐-policies like NAFTA and U.S.
farm subsidies that have drowned Mexican corn
farmers in a flood of subsidized U.S. corn.

     SEE HOW Wall Street Banksters have sucked the juice out of WORLD ECONOMY

In building local, living economies here, we
stand shoulder to shoulder with the citizens of
the Global South.

Frances Moore Lappe is a YES! contributing
editor. She is the author of Democracy's Edge:
Choosing to Save Our Country by Bringing
Democracy to Life.


Editor's Note: some of the figures given in this
article have been updated from the print version.

1 Gustavo Capdevila, Dim Outlook Despite Economic
Growth, Says ILO, IPS, 23 August 1999, Geneva.

"The incomes of the informal sector, crucial to
the region's economy, also fell an average of one
percent from 1990 to 1998 - a trend that has
major repercussions, the report stressed, as a
full 85 percent of new jobs in Latin America and
the Caribbean were created in the informal
sector. Indeed, the creation of new jobs remained
stagnant last year in the formal economy, while
the informal sector grew 4.5 percent, mainly due
to the dynamic performance of micro-enterprises.
The informal economy presently provides 58.7
percent of jobs outside of the agricultural
sector, formal employment in large private sector
firms 28.4 percent, and the public sector 12.9

See Also: Martha Alter Chen, Women and
Informality: A Global Picture, the Global Movement

SAIS Review, Vol. 21, #1, Winter-Spring 2001, pp.
71-82, Johns Hopkins University Press

"Even before the crisis, official statistics
indicated that the informal sector accounted for
nearly half of total non-agricultural employment
in East Asia, over half in Latin America and the
Caribbean, and as much as 80 percent in other
parts of Asia and in Africa. 1 In terms of urban
employment, the informal sector accounted for
well over half in Africa and Asia and a quarter
in Latin America and the Caribbean.

[Table 1] Not only its size but the contribution
of the informal sector in income terms is
significant in many regions. For example, in
several African countries, it accounts for nearly
30 percent of total income and over 40 percent of
total urban income. The contribution of the
informal sector to gross domestic product is
probably also sizable. For those countries where
estimates exist, the share of the informal sector
in non-agricultural GDP is between 45 and 60

2 16 million estimate made up of the following:
the website of Grameen Bank indicates that it has
6.67 million borrowers, 97 percent of whom are
women. The number of borrowers from the
Association for Social Advancement (ASA) is
estimated at 4.6 million (see page 5 of ASA
annual report, June 2006). BRAC borrowers were
estimated at 4 million in a statement by
Bangladesh UN Representative H.E. Dr. Iftekhar
Admed Chowdhury, to NGO briefing on 'Microfinance
and poverty reduction' in New York, October 13,
2005, and are listed at 5 million in a BRAC press
release July, 2006.

3 Estimate from International Co-operative
Alliance and David Thompson, long time analyst
and author about the global cooperative movement.

4 'State of Food Insecurity in the World 2004,
Food and Agriculture Organization, U.N., 26.

5 A conservative extrapolation from a statistic
given by Vijay Joshi in The Myth of India's
Outsourcing Boom, published simultaneously in
India Daily and The Financial Times, Nov 16,
2004: "IT-related output is currently less than 1
per cent of GDP. More significantly the sector
employs less than 1 million people."

6 Oscar Arias S´┐-nchez, The Cooperative Revolution, Ode, Issue 31.

7 S. Bowles, R. Edwards, F. Roosevelt,
Understanding Global Capitalism, 3rd Edition
(Oxford University Press, 2005), 400.

8 For more information about on