The biggest 'private sector': what place for the informal economy in green and inclusive growth?

News, 20 January 2016
IIED and partners are hosting a conference in London on 25 February that is designed to help build a new policy agenda to integrate the informal economy with inclusive green growth and sustainable development.

Four examples of informal economic activity (Photos: IIED)

The one-day conference in Westminster will bring together representatives of government, civil society, business and research organisations to discuss the informal economy, hear international case studies and look at ways to reconcile informality with inclusive green growth.

The event is being hosted by IIED and the Green Economy Coalition, WIEGO, the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and the OECD's Sahel and West Africa Club.

The conference programme (PDF) will review informal economies in diverse contexts – from food distribution and mining to forestry and waste collection. The programme features speakers from the International Labour Organisation, and from Ethiopia, Indonesia and Brazil. The presentations will showcase innovations in policy and practice.

You can also subscribe to a Twitter list of attendees to receive regular updates.

Green growth and the informal economy 

The concept of inclusive green growth has gained widespread recognition in recent years, and it is embedded in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as well as many national green growth plans. But national and international planning documents relating to green growth often fail address the needs of the informal economy. 

The informal economy is broadly defined as economic activity that is not subject to government regulation or taxation. Because it is unregulated, many public sector plans are actively hostile to the informal economy. Yet this growing sector sustains hundreds of millions of people across the world; in many countries the informal private sector employs more people than formal economic activity.

The organisers of this conference say that attempts to implement the post-2015 development agenda must be rooted in a sound understanding of the informal economy. An important step is to learn from policy innovations, business practices and the actions and priorities of those involved in the informal economy. 

Innovation and case studies

Some governments are innovating to work with the informal economy, for example by offering government-run training and certification schemes for food producers.

Businesses are innovating by strengthening links between their formal operations and informal workers their supply chains, for example in the garment and textile industries. Informal workers are beginning to use their collective voice to demand more appropriate policies. 

The organisers say that it is time to draw together experience and expertise about the informal sector across countries and different sectors. The over-arching conference aim is to help initiate a new policy agenda for an inclusive green economy and sustainable development.

Quick facts

Date: Thursday, 25 February 2016
Location: Central London
Cost: Free
Designed for: Representatives of government, civil society, business and research organisations. Places are limited to 150 delegates
Outline timetable: Conference sessions 9am-5pm, followed by a drinks reception and photo exhibition on the informal economy


Laura Jenks (, coordinator, Sustainable Markets Group

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