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The UFW Project (2015-18)

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


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 stated that eliminating Unacceptable Forms of Work (UFW) is a critical part of its mission.


The UFW Project has brought together policymakers, activists, and researchers from across the world to share ideas, experiments, and successful strategies on the legal regulation of UFW. The aim of the project was finding out more about the approaches that are being taken locally and globally and to consider whether successful experiments can be applied elsewhere.

Watch: Unacceptable Forms of Work

The ESRC/GCRF Strategic Network on Legal Regulation of Unacceptable Forms of Work

In 2017, the ESRC/GCRF Strategic Network on Legal Regulation of Unacceptable Forms of Work was formed to support a global dialogue on UFW. The Network was funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) through the Global Challenges Research Fund. It was led by Professor Deirdre McCann (University of Durham) together with Professor Judy Fudge (McMaster University) and Dr Sangheon Lee (International Labour Organization).

The UFW Network has brought together an interdisciplinary team of researchers and policy-makers from across the world, based on high-, middle- and low-income countries. Network members are global leaders on research and policy on labour regulation. See the below map for ESRC/GCRF Strategic Network Coverage:


Strategic Network Coverage map

A global collaboration

Effective labour regulation is not one-size-fits-all. It needs to respond to the conditions and culture of the local setting, and be rigorously tested to ensure that it achieves its aim. However, we can often be inspired by successes elsewhere. Our approach was to compare countries from different regions and income levels and investigate how they are each tackling the global challenges to effective labour laws. In this way, we can uncover the most interesting national and international interventions, and determine whether they can be adapted or expanded.


The Network supported a dialogue that transcends national boundaries and circulates regulatory ideas and innovations across the world. This global dialogue is crucial to encourage meaningful reforms in the design and implementation of domestic and international laws that can reach the most disadvantaged in the global workforce.

What Are Unacceptable Forms of Work (UFW)?

The ILO emphasises that UFW can take many forms. It has defined UFW as working conditions that ‘deny fundamental principles and rights at work, put at risk the lives, health, freedom, human dignity and security of workers or keep households in conditions of extreme poverty’.


The UFW agenda recognises that an expanding segment of the global workforce is in insecure, unsafe and low-paid labour.

The Multidimensional Model of UFW


Research by Deirdre McCann and Judy Fudge has generated a Multidimensional Model of Unacceptable Work, outlined in a report for the ILO - ‘Unacceptable Forms of Work: A Global and Comparative Study' (2015). 


The Multidimensional Model of UFW (1) outlines the substantive dimensions of UFW (2) empowers local actors to determine priorities for intervention and (3) calls for strategic regulatory responses that have substantial and systems-wide effects. A central finding of the research was the need for novel legal frameworks – and related social and economic policies – that can target UFW.


The report identifies 12 dimensions of Unacceptable Forms of Work, which highlight the many different ways that UFW can appear in workplaces communities across the world: 

UFW 12 Dimensions

 UFW Global Comparative Study
















An interactive presentation on the Multidimensional Model of Unacceptable Forms of Work is available on Prezi.


To download it, please click here.