Law & Informality

Law is an essential tool in improving livelihoods and lives. But legal and regulatory frameworks are designed for the formal economy. Too often, they fail to protect and support informal workers. Instead, legislation and law enforcement are often used to criminalize informal workers’ livelihood activities.

Informal workers – like all workers – require a regulatory framework that protects their rights in the workplace, balances the needs of all stakeholders, and promotes a climate of stability and security. An appropriate legal framework can encourage economic development, allowing informal workers to achieve their full potential as workers and, often, as micro-entrepreneurs.

Garment workers in India engaged in discussion

About Law & Informality

WIEGO’s Law & Informality initiative analyzes how informal workers’ demands for rights and protections can be transformed into law. Strategies for legal reform and implementation have been developed.

Most importantly, WIEGO wants to build the capacity of informal workers to engage effectively with the law and achieve legal empowerment.

Related Reading: Legal and Policy Tools to Meet Informal Workers Demands: Lessons from India by Kamala Sankaran and Roopa Madhav, 2013. 

Challenging Current Notions

To help informal workers improve and sustain their livelihoods, we must first challenge current notions of law that favour formal enterprises/workers over informal enterprises/workers, and men over women. Questions must be asked: What is work? Who is a worker? What is a workplace? What constitutes a worker organization?

WIEGO’s studies in Colombia, Ghana, India, Peru, and Thailand demonstrate that existing regulatory frameworks often over-regulate or under-regulate informal workers’ conduct. Regulation that is inconsistent with the realities of the informal economy may be a symptom of:

  • incomplete information or understanding about the informal economy
  • prejudices against informal workers
  • power imbalances between informal workers and other stakeholders
  • a lack of interest in informal economy regulation.

To build understanding, WIEGO launched a Law Exposure Dialogue Programme that gives judges, lawyers, policymakers and organizers firsthand knowledge of how regulations impact informal workers every day.

Taking Part in the Debate on Formalizing the Informal Economy

A major debate relating to law and the informal economy is the question of whether and how to formalize the informal economy. Through the Law initiative, the WIEGO Network has brought together informal workers to draft a Platform on transitioning from the informal economy to the formal economy. A delegration participated in the discussions on this topic at the International Labour Conference in June 2014. Learn more.

Street vendor working in Accra, Ghana

Resources on this Website

WIEGO has produced a series of Legal Briefs exploring selected topics

Law and Occupational Sectors

WIEGO's Law & Informality Work

Empowering informal workers to:

► Use the law

► Know the law

► Demand change!

Newsletter on Law & the Informal Economy

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