Addressing the Working Conditions of Street Vendors

21 May 2013

image UNDP Afghanistan : Ali Yawar, 53, is a street vendor from Kabul. His disability has prevented him from earning a descent income in order to support his family.

Kabul, Afghanistan: Ali Yawar, 53, is a street vendor from Kabul. He was a young boy of 18 when he lost his arm during the war in 1990s. Since then, Ali’s physical disability has prevented him from earning a descent income in order to support his family. In the absence of a secure job, Ali has been deprived the joy of a stable income which would usher in peace and security for his family.

There are over 700 disabled street vendors like Yawar working alongside the Kabul River who face similar struggles. Even though their contribution to the city’s economic life is significant, they fail to receive the same legal protection as businesses in the formal sector.

As a first step towards addressing issues affecting street vendors’ rights to a secure and decent livelihood, the Kabul Municipality and the Ministry of Justice recently co-hosted a Joint Stakeholder Meeting on Labour Rights, the Informal Economy and Working Conditions of Street Vendors in Kabul City. With support from UNDP’s Justice and Human Rights in Afghanistan (JHRA) project, the meeting addressed issues regarding informal market vendors in terms of providing legal protection, designating safe areas for vendors to conduct business as well as taking measures to improve the livelihoods of Kabul’s most marginalized and vulnerable people.

The meeting was addressed by Dplme. Eng Ulomi, Deputy Mayor of Kabul, Mr. Azrash Hafizi, International Relations Director of the Chamber of Commerce and Brig. General Daoud Amin, Deputy Police Chief of Kabul. Other participants included Din Mohammad Faeze representing the Ministry of Justice, Mr. Ghulam Farooq Navid representing the Ministry of Labour, Mr. Abdul Satar Maihaumal representing the Ministry of Commerce, Mr. Ghulam Ali Baryal representing the National Afghan National Labour Union, Eng. Sharpoor representing the Presidential Administration House as well as representatives from various Non- Governmental Organizations.

The meeting proposed a set of near-term solutions for ameliorating the working conditions of street vendors. These include designating and enforcing an economically viable area, zone or “plaza” for vendors to operate within as a measure to prevent harassment and concentrate market activities in centralized locations. Licensing vendors as a means of providing legal identity as well as establishing a ‘model market’ with permanent vending stalls with amenities such as shelter, water, sanitation and electricity were also recommended.

A widely agreed upon initiative was to allocate specific times of the day for vendors to sell their goods, specifically in terms of creating a culture of “Night Bazaars.” The relationship between street vendors and local authorities has been fractured by previous incidents of force and abuse of authority. In order to remedy this situation, it was proposed that representative Unions and Associations of street vendors must work in co-operation with police and municipal authorities to rebuild confidence and trust. Mr. Azrash Hafizi was enthusiastic to implement a pilot project in Kabul for Night Bazars as this will provide revenue options for the Municipality, increase the flow of income into local markets and enhance protection for vendors-making it a win-win situation for all stakeholders.

In recent years, Kabul has experienced a dramatic influx of migrants whose only option is to sell goods and commercial products along the Kabul River and other informal market areas for nominal profit. Many street vendors have been harassed by local authorities and subjected to forceful removal from their vending areas. In some cases, vendors have been victims of physical abuse. With approximately 80% to 90% of Kabul’s economy based in the informal sector, it is of paramount importance that labour standards for informal workers are upheld. Such measures would integrate street vendors, shoe shiners and other vulnerable actors into the mainstream economy where they would be granted the necessary security to continue their endeavors.

UNDP’s Justice and Human Rights in Afghanistan (JHRA) Project is contributing to the legal empowerment of vulnerable groups by engaging with line Ministries to develop a policy on the protection of street vendors in Kabul and other provinces. JHRA plans to provide technical support and partnership opportunities in order for workers in the informal sector to confidently contribute to the local economy. By granting vendors the social and economic rights, people like Ali Yawar will develop personal and financial security necessary for the peaceful transition in Afghanistan.