Uttam Kumar, of Khulna, Bangladesh, has been working as a septic tank emptier since he was 21. For him, protecting sanitation workers’ rights means a better future for both himself and his children.
“I want my rights and a better living environment,” he says. “How can I be expected to improve my situation otherwise? How can my daughter be expected to have a better life than mine?”
Uttam is not alone. Sanitation workers range from permanent public or private employees with health benefits, pensions, and clear legal protections at one end of the spectrum, to some of the most marginalized, poor, and abused members of society who take on low-grade, labor intensive and dangerous work at the other end. We find that, in most developing country contexts, the latter situation unfortunately prevails. The work of informal sanitation workers is financially precarious, with poor pay and few benefits. They are often subject to weak legal protection, missing or weak standard operating procedures, and weak enforcement and oversight of laws and policies protecting their rights and their health.