Formalizing Street Vendors: Regulating to improve well-being or to gain control?

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingBook chapter


Formalization, understood as gaining legal status to develop their businesses, is the mainstream policy to regulate the work of street vendors in most cities in the world. However, formalization policies are criticized by different scholars, and many vendors go back to the streets after formalization despite government efforts. To contribute to this long-standing debate, this chapter explores the relation between the formalization of street vendors and the improvement of their well-being. Formalization is addressed from the point of view of the vendors. The empirical data are based on an ethnographic study of a formalization programme for street vendors in the city of Bogotá, Colombia. A total of 169 vendors were interviewed. This study concludes that formalization often covers a very small number of street vendors, while the majority work informally and do not have access to formalization programmes. However, the few vendors who were formalized were better off after the formalization of their businesses. They gained confidence, self-respect and autonomy. They were empowered by the law that recognized their work and gave them legal status, contrary to previous laws that disempowered them and prohibited their livelihoods. Therefore, formalization can be a tool to enhance well-being when governments use the law to improve the life of the poor, and not as a tool of control.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Law and Society


  • formalization, decent work, well-being, street vendors, regulating, empowerment, informal, economy
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRegulating for Equitable and Job-Rich Growth
EditorsColin Fenwick, Valérie Van Goethem
Place of PublicationGeneva
PublisherEdward Elgar Publishing
ISBN (Electronic)978 1 78811 267 3
ISBN (Print)978-92-2-129646-1
Publication statusPublished - 2017
Publication categoryResearch