This is the most vital question.
Homebased work spans continents and centuries. Some of the oldest forms of work, such as weaving and spinning, were done at home. Today, some of the latest forms of work connected with computer technology and modern telecommunications are increasingly taking place in homebased work sites.
Homebased work is, in fact, a vital and growing part of economic modernization, linked to the globalization of industry and the never-ending search for cheaper sources of labour and more efficient means of production.
As governments seek to attract industrial investment, the availability of low-cost labour and labour stability is a valuable bargaining commodity. In today’s international marketplace, it is not uncommon for a single garment or electronic device to be a compilation of the efforts of workers over two or three continents, most of whom are not even aware of each other’s existence.
Quick changes in fashion and demands from retailers for immediate responses have led to the need to produce high-fashion garments rapidly, customized to specific markets. Such uncertainties in demand have resulted in a highly competitive local manufacturing industry which has to rely on subcontracting orders out to small producers rather than undertaking production in large scale factories halfway around the world.
It is well-known fact that the Japanese model of “just in time (JIT)” production (organized at the last minute) was based on the existence of thousands of small sub-contractors who were able to draw upon the skills of women working at home.
While homebased work in both developing and developed countries may be considered “informal” by most economists, in the sense that workers are outside the protection of the law and their work is often not valued appropriately, most of the products they produce are sold by large, mainstream retailers.
The same pattern that is true for clothing can also be found in the automobile industry, all types of electronics production and assembly, and many other modern industries.
In Thailand, for example, as wages in the cities have risen, Thai products have become expensive as compared to their competitors in other less developed Asian countries. Local industries are relocating to rural areas where small workshops can be set up less expensively. There is a growing need for rural families to develop new ways to earn more income. New farming technology requires cash to purchase inputs, while the growing influence of the mass media brings with it an increased demand for consumer goods.
So, homebased work in all of its diverse forms cannot be viewed as an artifact of traditional economies. Rather, such work appears to be growing in both developing rural and urban economies. Further, the income that homework produces is no longer supplementary but has become increasingly vital to families and nations alike.
The women who weave in Thailand, the handicraft makers in the Philippines, the homebased workers assembling electronic devices in Malaysia and the Indonesian women machine-stitching garments at home are all inextricably linked within the global marketplace.