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Work, Informalisation and Place Research Centre

Unit(s) of assessment: Business and Management Studies; Social Work and Social Policy

Research theme: Safety and Security of Citizens and Society

School: Nottingham Business School; School of Social Sciences


The Work, Informalisation and Place Research Centre(WIP) provides methodologically innovative interdisciplinary studies with a specific focus upon the spatial dimensions of contemporary work and employment in sectors such as hand car washes, nail bars, and small-scale garment manufacturing. Work in these sectors tends towards casualisation and informalisation where workers operate under business models that embed patterns of labour market exploitation. Exploitation includes wage theft, under payment of the national minimum wage through to modern slavery where employer coercion centres on work for favours, labour bondage and tied labour in unsafe workplaces.

We work with the Director of Labour Market Enforcement at the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Gangmasters Labour Abuse Authority which is an agency of the Home Office and the Responsible Car Wash Scheme. WIP's research team is currently working on a large-scale project to map and risk classify hand car wash sites in England and Wales. This project develops our empirical research on the workplace and employment relations characteristics of hand car washes in the east midlands by providing clear and accurate labour market intelligence-led research findings. In turn, these create a predictive dimension built on expertise developed across a range of research projects at NTU that will enable regulators to target their limited resources effectively.

Our research expertise enables us to study contemporary patterns of work in many sectors of employment, determine the extent to which informalisation is a feature and examine a sector through a place-based methodology centred on a city, a county or region, a district or a suburb. We present our research at world-leading conferences such as European Group for Organizational Studies, and the International Labour Process Conference. We publish our research in world-leading and internationally recognised journals and provide bespoke confidential research intelligence led reports and presentations for regulators and other stakeholders.

Our work is currently themed into three strands exploring informalised labour and work, regulation and enforcement and spatial analysis of informalised work opportunities which are developed by the creation of empirical research and policy and practitioner engagement.

WIP is also actively seeking to grow the Centre through research collaborations and policy engagement. We are currently supporting one PhD candidate who is exploring county lines through an exploitation and business model perspective.

Please contact us for more information or visit our Twitter page for updates.

Programme of Research


Gangmaster and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA)

Alongside the GLAA we are exploring how to identify and tackle problematic informal work activity across the UK. We have shared our research on hand car washes and established a programme of work to inform the GLAA’s work to tackle bad practice and unlawful and illegal practice in the UK, which has included a series of pilot programmes. Two of the Research Centre are members of the GLAA's Labour Provider and Labour User Liaison Group. We are advisers to the GLAA Director of Strategy.

Director of Labour Market Enforcement (DLME)

We have worked with and advised the last Director of Labour Market Enforcement to provide evidence and support for the DLMEs last two strategy documents presented to Government. We are also now working with the current Director sharing our research and insights ahead of the next strategy document. The current director and the GLAA formally partnered with WIP in our successful application for funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (see below). We advise the Director’s office and secretariat and are part of the DLME’s wider group that is assessing the creation of a single enforcement body for labour market regulation in the UK, a policy commitment of the current Government.

Responsible Car Wash Scheme (RCWS)

In partnership with the GLAA the RCWS sought to license, promote and roll-out compliant and regulated car wash provision on supermarket car parks. More recently, since December 2020, the RCWS, the GLAA and WIP are evaluating wider forms of regulation based on the potential for national licensing (beyond supermarket car parks) enforced by local authorities.

Programme Challenger

We work with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority Modern Slavery team to share research insights with their team. We are currently developing a collaboration to inform Local Authority partners to utilise our insights and support a mutually supportive programme of work to understand and tackle labour exploitation in the Greater Manchester area.

South East Regional Organised Crime Unit

Working alongside the Responsible Car Wash Scheme we supported an educational initiative to engage hand car wash owners across West Berkshire. Our team led by Rich Pickford supported the identification of sites, assessing their potential for risk and attended a series of visits in early 2020.

Recent Publications:

Clark, I., Fearnall-Williams, H., Hunter, J., Pickford, R. (2020) ‘How Licensing regimes can displace trade unions? Evidence from informal employment in Britain’ Economic and Industrial Democracy, on-line first

Clark, I., Hunter, J., Pickford, R. , Fearnall-Williams, H. (2020) ‘Working and living practices may explain Leiceter’s coronavirus spike’ The Conversation July.

Clark, I. (2020) British-Based Foreign-Owned Firms: ‘Containing, Embracing and Hyper-Activating Britishness’? Industrial and Economic Democracy 41:4 read the whole article at

Clark, I., Lawton, C.,  Stevenson, C., Vickers, T.,  Dahill, D. (2020)  ‘A “Place-based” approach to    work and employment: The end of reciprocity, ordinary working families and “giggers” in a place’ Economic and Industrial Democracy

Clark, I. (2019) ‘The British Home Stores pension scheme: Privatized looting?’  Industrial Relations Journal 50:4 331-347.

Clark, I. and Colling, T. (2019) ‘New Insights into Informal Migrant Employment: Hand Car Washes in a Mid-Sized English City’ Economic and Industrial Democracy. 40: 3755-775

Clark, I. and Colling, T. (2018) ‘Work in Britain’s Informal Economy: Learning from Road-Side Hand Car Washes’ British Journal of Industrial Relations, 56:2 320-341., read the whole article here:

Clark, I. (2018) ‘Abandoned spaces and technology displacement by labour: The case of hand car  washes’ New Technology Work and Employment, 33:3, 234-249

Yates, E. and Clark, I., 2018. The strategic economic governance of Greater Manchester's local labour market by the local state: implications for young workers. Economic and Industrial Democracy. ISSN 0143-831X

Flagship Projects

WIP focuses on three main areas of work and whilst strongly interlinked they highlight our defined interests in new knowledge and theory, practical applications and policy change.

Mapping informal workplaces and labour exploitation

This first focus is based on the combination of our theoretical starting points to better understand how, where and why informal non-compliant work occurs.

Vulnerabilities to Modern Slavery? Predicting the presence and location of informalised workplaces and possible associations with Covid-19.

We currently hold a major award from the Arts and Humanities Research Council where our research forms part of the Modern Slavery, Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre (MSPEC). The project explores the connection between labour market exploitation, Covid-19 and Modern Slavery in three sectors identified as being at risk from widespread labour exploitation (hand car washes, nail bars and small unit garment manufacturing). This project is supported by two of our Research Fellows (Jack Barratt and Nidhi Sharma) and will provide a more in-depth understanding of these sectors and the ways we can understand and tackle abuse. Full details of the project can be found on the MSPEC website.

Exploring the embeddedness of the  informal economy over time within specific localities

Alongside our work funded by the AHRC WIPs third Research Fellow, Gabriella Cioce, is undertaking a place-based ‘deep dive’ analysis that maps the connections between informal sectors in the Whitechapel area of London. An exploration of the embedded interconnectivity between informal businesses within one location will be used to further enhance our theoretical and practice based agendas. Therein our approach argues that informal work and employment becomes embedded within specific localities over time. We will be able to compare our analysis of Whitechapel with specific districts of Leicester where unregulated informal practice appears to be an embedded presence in small unit garment manufacturing.

Engaging regulators and policymakers

WIP believes research should have a practical output beyond the academic community and we critically challenge practitioners and policy makers to use evidence to inform action.

RCWS|GLAA evaluation of local interventions

WIP is currently working in collaboration with the RCWS and the GLAA to understand how different forms of locally enforced licensing for hand car washes may impact on the informal economy.

WIP is also engaged with the GLAA on its practice panel and officers to translate research into actionable policy. We also work closely with the OLME and other partners to bridge the academic and practitioner divide. Professor Ian Clark is an advisor to Jon Cruddas MP and our research has informed practice at a policy and operational level.

Furthering theoretical understanding of work, place and informalisation

WIP is committed to furthering academic debate be that across Employment Relations, Criminology and Spatial Analysis of place. We formulate all our work into academic publications to push forward current debates. A number of example projects are set out below.

In collaboration with Professor Alan Collins, Head of Economics at NBS we are examining the current landscape of enforcement and regulation of informal business and employment practices. This landscape features complex structural and operational issues for regulators subject to tight resource constraints. These enable permissiveness and offer scope for strategic regulatory tolerance of some violation types to raise compliance rates for other types of violations (regulatory dealing). Drawing on extensive empirical evidence and qualitative data sources for hand car washes this project investigates key hypotheses focussing on compliance and responses by businesses and regulators to the extant regulatory regime. The findings from this project will inform discussion as to whether movement to a single enforcement body for employment regulation in the UK is warranted.

Doctoral Research

WIP is engaged in training and supporting the researchers of tomorrow and is currently supervising one PhD candidate. Their project looks at county lines drug businesses and the extent to which they mirror business and marketing strategies in compliant businesses in the formal economy. Barbie is supervised by Ian Clark, James Hunter and Huw Fearnall-Williams.

Further information

We have presented our research to colleagues at the University of Leeds and the University of Sheffield. We have also presented our research to the Manchester Industrial Relations Society one of the UK’s oldest University public engagement forums.

Newspapers such as the Financial Times and Le Monde have covered our research and its impact on public policy.

The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee called on WIP to provide written evidence and oral evidence at its sessions in Parliament, this is covered by the following video.

House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee report, hand car washes, November 6th 2018