Skip to content


Work, Informalisation and Place

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 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 BEIS, the Gangmasters Labour Abuse Authority 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.

We are currently undertaking externally funded work alongside the modern Slavery Policy and Evidence Centre (MSPEC) which is exploring the connection between labour market exploitation, Covid-19 and Modern Slavery on three sectors identified as being at risk from widespread labour exploitation (hand car washes, nail bars and small unit garment manufacturing). This project supported by two Research Fellows (Jack Barratt and Nidhi Sharma) 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.

Alongside this work funded by the AHRC we have a Research Fellow who is undertaking a series of projects with the main focus being on a location-based case study project that explores the interconnectivity of informal businesses within one location.

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.


Gangmaster and Labour Abuse Authority

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 their work to tackle bad 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.

Director of Labour Market Enforcement

We have worked with the last Director of Labour Market Enforcement to provide evidence and support for the last two strategies presented to Government. We are also now working with the current Director sharing our research and insights ahead of the next strategy.

Programme Challenger

We have worked with the GMCA 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

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.

Related staff

The following staff are involved in the work of the WIP Research Group:

Related projects

Current Projects

Vulnerabilities to Modern Slavery? Predicting the presence and location of informalised workplaces in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic

AHRC|Modern Slavery Policy and Evidence Centre funded research project to map and understand informal workplaces during Covid-19. This short project running for six months is led by Professor Ian Clark and supported by James Hunter, Rich Pickford, Nidhi Sharma and Jack Barratt.

Location-based Case Study: Whitechapel's Informal Economy

Developed by Research Fellow Gabriella Cioce we are developing our understanding of the interconnectivity of informal work within a bounded geographic location to theorise how different informal businesses interact and connect.

Informal Work Policy Engagement

Our research is undertaken to further the academic debate but to also ensure the public policy discussion on informal work and labour exploitation is informed by robust and up to date evidence. Led by Rich Pickford this work engages practitioners, regulators, policymakers and other academics to ensure our research reaches a broad audience who can utilise our findings and insights.

Understanding the spatial dimensions of hand car washes across the UK

This project has combined group members' expertise in industrial relations, informal work and spatial mapping to further our understanding of this sector and the challenges within it.  Working with partners we have begun to explore how our research can inform policy and practice.

Exploring how spatial factors affect vulnerable workers – a pilot study into nail bars

Taking our expertise from the hand car wash sector we are beginning to validate our approach with nail bars, another problematic sector identified by the GLAA and the DLME.