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Project description

Our research on Decent Work Regulation has covered Unacceptable Forms of Work, Decent Work Regulation in Africa and Labour/Data Justice. The significance of this issue is highlighted by the inclusion of Decent Work in the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Primary participants

Professor Deirdre McCann Professor of Law and Policy
Karina Patricio Ferreira Lima Doctoral Researcher, part-time tutor and Modern Law Review Scholar
Dr Arely Cruz-Santiago (2017-2018) Postdoctoral Research Associate and Project Manager on the ESRC/GCRF Strategic Network on Unacceptable Forms of Work

About the research

The Project on Decent Work Regulation (DWR) responds to UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 8, which promotes inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all.

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The Project on Decent Work Regulation (DWR) responds to UN Sustainable Development Goal (SGD) 8, which promotes inclusive and sustainable economic growth employment and decent work for all. 

To achieve these objectives, effective labour regulation is crucial. Strong labour laws are a vital component of development policies, capable of supporting inclusive growth, sustainable prosperity, and the well-being of workers and their families.

Despite effective labour regulation being one of the most pressing challenges of the twenty-first century, regulatory strategies towards productive and protected working lives remain underdeveloped. There is substantial potential for innovative laws that can effectively achieve decent work – especially in Low and Middle Income Countries (LMICs).

In response to this demand, the DWR Project supports a set of linked research and policy activities towards understanding and improving labour market regulation across the world.

Unacceptable Forms of Work (2017-18)

The DWR Project builds on the work of the ESRC/GCRF Strategic Network on Legal Regulation of Unacceptable Forms of Work (UFW) (2017). Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) through the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), the project initiated a global network that now includes more than 60 research and policy bodies in 20 countries across the world.

The Project generated a set of Research Agendas on regulatory challenges that are present in both the global North and South. Outlined in a 2018 report, these include casual work in a range of forms (e.g. “day labour”, “zero hours contracts”, “on-call work”); forced labour; informal employment; the prevalence of violence and harassment in certain jobs and sectors, including in the care sector and in domestic work; and the weak enforcement of labour standards.

View the report Unacceptable Forms of Work: Global Dialogue / Local Innovation (2018)

Decent Work Regulation in Africa (2018-19)

In 2018, the DWR Project launched Decent Work Regulation in Africa (DWR-Africa). The Project was centred on effective regulatory strategies for decent work in the in southern Africa, with a particular focus on the garment sector. Funded by Durham University (UK) through the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE)/Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), the Project was a collaboration between Durham University (UK), the University of Cape Town (South Africa) and York University (Canada).

DWR-Africa established a regional network of researchers and stakeholders in southern Africa, conducted research on challenges to labour law enforcement in the region, and generated recommendations for research and regulatory policy.

Findings and Recommendations of the Regional Meeting on Decent Work Regulation in Africa

Labour/Data Justice (2019-21)

The DWR Project has reached a new stage in 2020-21, in which it will focus on the design and implementation of regulatory frameworks that respond to the digitization of working life.

A first phase of the Project will investigate novel law-centred initiatives to secure decent work for domestic workers in Mexico. The focus is on the rapid digitisation of the sector and the challenges it poses for labour/data justice. More broadly, we are interested in the role of labour regulation in sustainable development within a context of digital transformation of working life.

Effective labour regulation as a path to the SDGs

Sustaining productive and protected working lives is among the most pressing challenges of the twenty-first century. The urgency of this objective is confirmed by the inclusion of Decent Work among the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG8).

This is a crucial development goal that cross-cuts many other SDGs, such as the elimination of poverty (SDG1), good health and well-being (SDG3), gender equality (SDG5), reduced inequalities (SDG10), sustainable cities and communities (SDG11), and peace, justice, and strong institutions (SDG16).

Towards the elimination of Unacceptable Forms of Work (UFW)

Having a job does not necessarily guarantee decent quality of life. Across the world, millions of people are working in insecure jobs, in unsafe conditions, for inadequate pay, or in abusive work environments. The UN International Labour Organization (ILO) has highlighted that eliminating UFW is a critical part of its mission.

One of the major challenges of the 21st century is to ensure that workers across the world have working conditions that respect their fundamental rights, do not risk their wellbeing, and are secure and fairly remunerated.

To achieve these objectives, effective labour regulation is crucial. Strong labour laws are a vital component of development policies, capable of supporting inclusive growth, sustainable prosperity, and the wellbeing of workers and their families. In this regard, there is much potential for the design of innovative regulatory strategies that can effectively achieve decent work – especially in Low and Middle Income Countries (LMICs).

Research questions

The UFW Project has investigated important questions at the heart of this problem, such as:

  • What are the factors that cause Unacceptable Forms of Work to take root?
  • What kinds of regulation can make an impact?
  • Can these local regulations be applied elsewhere?
  • Can global solutions be agreed?