Strategies for work life reform amongst informal sector workers in developing countries are currently dominated by resource-based approaches such as the micro-credit movement. This policy framework is predicated upon certain liberal assumptions about individual human action and the relationship between human behaviour and economic development. This article contends that these assumptions are inappropriate when applied to informal sector workers and their economic activities. A focus on the intersubjective conditions of work and economic development, based on the work of Axel Honneth (1995), provides an alternative way of conceptualising the work life experience of marginalised workers and appropriate interventions for economic and social security. An example of a collective strategy implemented by the Self Employed Womens' Association (SEWA) in India, demonstrates the important role that interpersonal recognition plays in activating worker identity and agency to achieve development. The success of SEWA's methodology has implications for how we think about the meaning of development and work life reform in poor countries, suggesting that interventions for economic and social security must engage workers at both the economic and cultural levels at which insecurity, moral injury and social exclusion are produced.