Feminist Approaches to Labour Collectives (FemLab.co) is a seed-funded initiative by the International Development Research Center (IDRC), Canada, as part of their Future of Work series. This project builds on an understanding of communicative ecologies of marginalized women groups and other vulnerable populations in specific sites of informal labour in the Global South. We explore how digital platforms can be leveraged by them to create fair work conditions, ethical global supply chains, and feminist governance structures and design.

The Future of Work is at the centre of debates on the emerging digital society: Which jobs will become obsolete through AI and who will benefit? Can algorithms help to overcome discriminatory human decision-making, or will they deepen existing biases? Do novel business models provide progressive opportunities for workers or are they rather tools for their exploitation? While many commentators come with solutions and visions to the table, women workers are often neglected in this conversation. The fact is that women constitute most workers in many Global South industries from garments to salon services. Notwithstanding their large numbers, this group has often been side-lined and/or stereotyped by tech designers, researchers, policy makers, and businesses alike.

Despite limited access to smartphones, restricted mobility, growing sexual harassment, and gendered legal and social norms, they organize themselves in ways that, if attended to, can radically overhaul how we approach Design, Governance, Networks, and Visions for work. Access to a digital platform may result in previously unthinkable independence or life- and livelihood-threatening repercussions. They have much to gain but just as much to lose.

By taking a user-centered and feminist approach to design and deployment of design and policy, and working alongside diverse stakeholders such as tech designers, policy makers, NGOs, aid agencies, feminist and worker activists, and scholars and business folks, we come together to envision in concrete terms how digital platforms may be optimized to enhance representation, share information, and connect and collectivize workers in a changing and increasingly precarious labour market. This presents opportunities for workers on platforms, as well as those in traditional workplaces to utilize technological advances to advocate for decent work conditions. 

We examine closely the design and deployment of digital platforms that serve as intermediaries for employment in different sectors and contexts and the new digital collectives in this gig economy that have a distinctive gendered dimension. These insights will be applied to 1) design ethical platforms, 2) create digital storytelling campaigns/ outreach, and 3) make accessible legal services via visual contracts/toolkits.

Insight: To build user and stakeholder insight through ethnographic engagement 

Engage: To make legal knowledge accessible through multimedia storytelling

Design: To guide in ethical design and deployment for empowering workers from below

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