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Law and rights for the informal economy

This research seeks to understand the risks and vulnerabilities to urban livelihoods operating in plural and contradictory legal and regulatory environments.

With a focus on street trade, the most visible and contested domain of the informal economy, the research explores the impact of urban legislation on street traders’ livelihoods with case studies of four cities with different legal traditions: Dar es Salaam; Ahmedabad; Dakar and Durban.

Legislation covering street trading is complex, poorly documented and erratically applied. Interpreted and implemented by municipalities, regulations are rarely understood by street traders; bylaws regulating cart-pushers or kiosk owners may be colonial relics, while prohibitive costs and lengthy procedures put business registration out of reach, and lack of property rights makes traders vulnerable to evictions.

Instead, street trade is regulated by informal actors including private landlords, market or welfare associations, unions, or savings groups, the police or vigilantes, protecting some traders but leaving others vulnerable to exploitation. The cumulative impacts are poorly understood.

The research argues that new thinking is needed to create a conceptual framework for improved understanding of the plural relationship between law, rights and regulation and the informal economy. This should consider the contest between traditional, modernist or rights-based concepts of law, who has political power over whom, and the gap between intent and implementation. Project outputs address this gap.

Research areas

In Ahmedabad, under the Constitution the ‘right to life’ is a Fundamental Principle but the ‘right to work’ is a Directive Principle, which informs policy but is not enforceable in a court of law. Several national and state laws also impact on street vendors, including the Indian Penal Code, 1860, the Bombay Provincial Municipal Corporation Act, 1949, and the Gujarat Town Planning and Urban Development Act, 1976. Street vendors are most frequently charged for causing an obstruction or not having a license.

Following effective national lobbying, the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act, 2014 has been approved at as model legislation to be adopted by State governments.  Street vendors in Ahmedabad have been effective in using Public Interest Litigation to require the State of Gujarat to implement federal policy at state level.

In Dakar, Article 8 of the Constitution of the Republic of Senegal (Loi 2001-03 of 22 January 2001 and amendments) guarantees to all citizens fundamental individual freedoms, economic and social rights and collective rights, including civil and political freedom, freedom of opinion, speech, and association; freedom of enterprise, and the right to work. However, under Loi 67-50 of 29 November 1967 that covers trading in the public highway and in public space, street trade is largely restricted.

However, direct action by street traders over a number of years, particularly riots in 2007, resulted in national debate and negotiations with the Mairie de Dakar to provide off-street trading space.

In Dar es Salaam, the 1997 Constitution entitles the people of Tanzania to protection of their person, dignity, and property and guaranteed the right to life, right to work and other related rights. Street trading is regulated by a number of laws including the Land Use Planning Act, No. 6, 2007, the Penal Code, 1983, and the Highways Act, 1932, the Local Government (Urban Authorities) Act, 1982, and local bylaws.

Urban authorities have duties to regulate markets and food hygiene, to issue of trading licenses, and maintain peace and order. The government has also initiated the Property and Business Formalisation Programme (known as MKURABITA) to encourage business formalisation.

In Durban coalitions of street traders have used legal means to claim urban rights.  For many years Durban was a model of inclusive planning for street traders.  In the mid-1990s the Warwick Junction Project involved urban renewal of a busy precinct linking bus, rail and taxi stops to the city, and innovative design created new potential for street traders.  In 1999 the city published an Informal Economy Policy, seen as critical to promoting economic development.

By the mid-2004 political agendas had changed, and a new Public Realm Management project was introduced, which sought to stop street trading.  Plans for the 2010 FIFA World Cup created additional demands and in 2009 the city announced plans to redevelop the Early Morning Market used by many vegetable sellers for a shopping mall.  With support from two NGOs, Asiye eTafuleni and the Legal Resources Centre, street traders threatened court action and the proposal was eventually withdrawn.  More recently traders have successfully challenged in the courts the power of the city to confiscate street traders’ goods, which was declared unconstitutional.

Funder

DFID-ESRC Joint Fund for Poverty Alleviation Research, Project RES-167-25-0591 (2010-2013)

People

  • Professor Alison Brown, Cardiff University
  • Professor Michal Lyons, London South Bank University
  • Ibrahima Dankoco, UniversitéCheikh Anta Diop de Dakar, Senegal
  • Professor Darshini Mahadevia, Centre for Urban Equity, CEPT University, Ahmedabad, India
  • Dr. Tulia Ackson, School of Law, University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
  • Dr. Colman Msoka, Institute of Development Studies, Univ. of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
  • Caroline Skinner, Women in Informal Employment, Globalizing & Organizing, African Centre for Cities, University of Cape Town, South Africa
  • Richard Dobson, Director, AsiyeeTafuleni, Durban, South Africa
  • Dr.Geum Young Min, Cardiff University
  • Abdou Aziz Mboj, UniversitéCheikh Anta Diop de Dakar, Sénégal
  • Suchita Vyas, Centre for Urban Equity, CEPT University, Ahmedabad, India
  • Pooja Shah, CEPT University, Ahmedabad, India

Expert Advisors

  • SEWA (Self-Employed Women's Association)
  • Dr. Edésio Fernandes, DPU Associates, Lincoln Institute of Land Policy
  • Dr. Gulelat Kebede, Head, UN-Habitat Urban Economy Branch
  • Professor Wilbard Kombe, Human Settlements Research, Ardhi University
  • Annali Kristiansen, Danish Institute of Human Rights
  • Dr. Peter Mackie, Cardiff University
  • Dr. Melissa Permezel, UN-Habitat, Legislation, Land & Governance
  • Claire Quenum, Women in Law and Development, Togo
  • Michael Safier, DPU Associates
  • Dr. Edmundo Werna, Urban Expert, International Labour Organisation
  • Legal team, Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), Ahmedabad, India