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.
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Programme of Research - Collaborations
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.
National Crime Agency
WIP is currently working with the NCA to support the identification of problematic hand car wash and nail bar sites across a selection of UK areas to inform their work to tackle serious organised crime and modern slavery activity.
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.
Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021
In the latest Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021, 86% of NTU’s research impact was assessed to be either world-leading or internationally excellent. The overall quality of each Unit of Assessment NTU submitted to REF in 2021 also saw an improvement from the previous REF in 2014.
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 working in collaboration with the RCWS and the GLAA on two projects 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.
Using data to supporting Operation Aidant
National Crime Agency and WIP are working together to supply all UK Police Forces with up to date hand car wash data to support a three week intensification to tackle labour market exploitation and modern slavery activity connected to hand car washes. Using WIP data and expertise the NCA will share a series of products with all UK Police Forces and partners such as HMRC NMW and the GLAA to raise awareness of the risks to workers at these sites. This project builds on prior engagement with the NCA on our Nail Bar research and will be completed in June 2022.
Testing the role of licensing across the hand car wash sector
Through our relationship with the Responsible Car Was Scheme (RCWS) WIP has undertaken two projects to test and learn from licensing and educational programmes with hand car wash owners and workers in seven UK areas. Our first project tested three differing models of licensing engagement in the south of England funded in part by the Home Office. We evaluated the impact of these schemes through 2021. The second project has targeted the most problematic sites in three UK areas together with the RCWS, local police. Funded through the Home Offices Modern Slavery Prevention Fund this work is exploring the level of non-compliance in a small sub-set of businesses and understanding how much they change when their non-compliance is highlighted. This project is ongoing in 2022.
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.
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.
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.
Cioce, G. Clark, I., Hunter, J. (2022) ‘How does informalisation encourage or inhibit collective action by migrant workers? A comparative analysis of logistics warehouses in Italy and hand car washes in Britain’ Industrial Relations Journal. Read the article at http://doi.org/10.1111/irj.12359
Mendonca, P., Kougiannou, N., Clark, I., (2022) 'Informalization in gig food delivery in the UK: The case of hyper‐flexible and precarious work' Industrial Relation. Read the article at http://doi.org/10.1111/irel.12320
Clark, I. Lawton, C., Stephenson C., Vickers, T., Dahill, D. (2022) ‘A place-based approach to work and employment: The end of reciprocity, ordinary working families and ‘giggers’ in a place’ Economic and industrial democracy 43(2) 634-657 https://doi.org/10.1177/0143831X20946374
Clark, I., Fearnall-Williams, H., Hunter, J., Pickford, R. (2022) ‘How Licensing regimes can displace trade unions? Evidence from informal employment in Britain’ Economic and Industrial Democracy, https://doi.org/10.1177/0143831X20903095
Yates, E., Clark, I., Rossitter, W. (2021) ‘Local economic governance strategies in the UK’s post-industrial cities and the challenges of improving local work and conditions’ Local Economy. On-line first https://doi.org/10.1177%2F02690942211032507
Clark, I., Hunter, J., Pickford, R. , Fearnall-Williams, H. (2020) ‘Working and living practices may explain Leiceter’s coronavirus spike’ The Conversation July. https://theconversation.com/working-and-living-practices-may-explain-leicesters-coronavirus-spike-141824
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 http://eid.sage.com/content/early/recent
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: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/bjir.12286
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 https://doi.org/10.1111/ntwe.12123
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