The Struggle of Waste Pickers in Colombia: From being considered trash, to being recognised as workers


  • Federico Parra



workers in informal employment, waste pickers, informality, social recognition, formalisation


Organised waste pickers in Colombia are formally recognised as subjects of special protection and as providers of the public service of recycling. As a consequence, they now receive remuneration for their work, but this was not always the case. This article highlights the strategies waste pickers used to successfully demand their rights while exploring the tensions and contradictions surrounding the formalisation of waste pickers as public service providers of recycling. These include a lack of sufficient guarantees from the government, attempts by private companies to appropriate waste pickers’ benefits, and a lack of respect by both the state and private businesses for the recognition of their rights in law. It concludes that there is an inherent tension between the main objectives of the waste pickers—to improve their working conditions and overcome poverty and vulnerability—and that of the state, which promotes free market competition in the provision of public services.


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Author Biography

Federico Parra

Federico Parra is the Latin America Coordinator of the waste picker programme of the NGO Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO). He holds a Master’s degree in Anthropology and a PhD in Political Studies and International Relations from the National University of Colombia. His work has contributed to the understanding of the socioeconomic context of waste pickers and the impact of public waste management policy on waste pickers in the city of Bogotá. He is a member of the Research Group on Collective and Environmental Rights (GIDCA), and the Research Group on Public Policy and Public Management, at the Faculty of Law, Political and Social Sciences of the National University of Colombia.




How to Cite

Parra, F. (2020). The Struggle of Waste Pickers in Colombia: From being considered trash, to being recognised as workers. Anti-Trafficking Review, (15), 122–136.