Decent Work and the Processes of Informality: The Case of the Wholesale Market of Ambato, Ecuador

Decent Work and the Processes of Informality: The Case of the Wholesale Market of Ambato, Ecuador

Arturo Luque
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-8426-2.ch004
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This chapter explores and analyzes the scope of decent employment in the Wholesale Market of Ambato, Ecuador, which derives from processes of informality. The first part examines the reconfiguration of working conditions over time, including the recommendations that have been implemented and how these changes have affected society based on the importance of work in different areas. In the second part, in addition to an extensive conceptual analysis, the data collection (surveys) carried out in the market itself is reported on. In a third phase, a full analysis of the market is presented in the context of its position as one of the most strategically important axes for the distribution of goods at the local and national level. This analysis examines and highlights the degradation of working conditions that are affected by the process informality and establishes an idealized relationship between working conditions and the need to conserve employment in the face of the exogenous agents that influence its development.
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Decent work, rather than being regulated and compulsory, is often a secondary consideration in certain economies. However, in recent years, it has been emphasized and promoted by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and, currently, by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), specifically in SDG No. 8, which shows a clear commitment by the United Nations to improvement in working conditions (Tangarife, Giraldo, Gallo, Muñoz, Vélez, and Colorado, 2017). Employment has a close and direct connection with human development since they both derive from the same practices that positively impact the lives of people, of organizations and of communities of all kinds (di Fabio, 2014; Blustein, 2006). Despite this, abuses by many public policies and certain companies, both by action and by omission, lead inexorably to the exclusion of many workers from the system. Examples of this include humanitarian crises, hunger refugees, climate refugees, political refugees and those displaced by war, by technology, and those affected by COVID-19. These have all contributed to the construct of informality, as well as the lack of quality in employment, often against the will of those involved (Guamán & Luque, 2019; Sassen, 2015, International Labour Organization, 2019a). According to Ryder (2015), “[...] machines must strengthen, not weaken, our prospects for inclusive growth and widely shared prosperity. We must ensure that the modern economy is a sustainable one, based on the principles of human dignity and the opportunity for decent work.” There is no doubt that the labor market has undergone radical transformations, although not in the same way for all (Morozov, 2015; Brynjolfsson & McAfee, 2014; Standing, 2013). Decent work seeks to encourage compliance with the legislation established in a given country and, in turn, to ensure that citizens may perform their work in dignified and optimal conditions. According to Baylos (2015, p. 22), decent work should also include “the analysis of both regular economy workers and informal economy employees, self-employed (independent) workers and homeworkers.” The aim is for workers to have decent lives1 in which they manage to meet not only their basic needs, but they may become fully happy through the fulfillment of a good quality of life (Bertranou, Cazanoba, Jiménez, & Jiménez, 2013). Analyzing decent work processes in Ecuador is a Herculean task both because of the country’s difficult and fascinating orography (it takes about 20 hours by bus to cross the country from north to south, a distance of 900 km), as well as for its being divided into the regions of coast, mountains, Amazon basin and the Galapagos Islands—each with their traditions, social diversity, and disparate climatology—which influences the way of life and the performance of both formal and informal labor activities. Ecuador is a multicultural, multiracial and multi-ethnic state. In fact, part of its potential lies in indigenous peoples and nationalities such as the Kichwa, Shuar, Achuar, Chachi, Epera, Huaorani, Siona, Secoya, Awa, Tsáchila and Cofán, and Zápara, all with a high level of agricultural productivity (Luque, Ortega, & Carretero, 2019). Within this melting pot of disparities lies the difficulty of researching the working conditions in one of the largest markets in Ecuador, located almost exactly in the center of the country, which is the case of the Wholesale Market located in the city of Ambato. This market permeates all parts of the city as it is the nerve center for the distribution of staples and basic supplies. In addition to comprising a myriad of languages, nationalities and economic relations, the market functions as a vast channel for the suppliers who deliver their products daily, both directly and through intermediaries, for traders with legally established stalls, and for those who sell their products on the fringes and who adapt in order to survive in the face of a tsunami of informality. This coexistence of formal and informal has a long history of development in Ecuador and specifically in the city of Ambato. At present, and due to the large corpus of existing legislation2, as well as the prevailing economic and social situation, such a coexistence generates tensions and changes that can affect working conditions, which is of great interest for analysis and constitutes the main object of this study.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Resilience: Transformations within a complex system related to the capacity for self-organization while maintaining internal structure, together with the ability to create adaptive responses, generate knowledge, experience, and learning. Resilience and sustainability are directly related to changes within societies, economies, and the human system as a whole. The transformation of systems is inevitable since it allows systems to strengthen and maintain sustainability over time. The potential for change facilitates renewal and organization.

Redistribution of Wealth: The transfer of wealth from one individual to another through a social mechanism such as taxation, charity, or public services. It aims to bridge the inequality gap between members of a society.

Anthropocene: Over the last several centuries much of humanity has had such a negative impact on the environment, as well as other unpredictable consequences, that some scientists have described this period of time as a new geological age: the era of human impact on the Earth, or Anthropocene.

Consumerism: This is an economic, social and political phenomenon. Postmodernity and the development of various models of production and consumption idealize the tendency to accumulate unnecessary goods and services, transforming the need for the acquisition of goods into excessive and indiscriminate consumption. This leads to the depletion of natural resources and an ecological imbalance resulting from an increase in waste and other kinds of of negative environmental impacts.

Public Policy: This refers to decisions and actions that a government takes when addressing public or collective issues.

Social and Solidarity Economy: This places human beings as the first and last consideration in economic activities and is an alternative approach to the market economy. It relates to organizations, cooperatives, associations, or companies that aim to produce goods, services and knowledge for economic purposes while simultaneously focusing on social implications and fostering solidarity.

Traditional Practices: Actions and knowledge produced by local communities over many generations through which their behavior and autochthonous environment may be better understood.

Rurality: This relates to degree of industrialization and general development of a region. It is concerned with more sparsely populated areas containing spaces for the development of primary activities, being a source of natural resources. It involves complex socio-economic cultural models interrelated through the exchange of goods as a basis for economic activities. It also concerns the move from the traditional to the modern as a vector of progress.

Economic Globalization: This is a phenomenon in expansion that causes profound changes on the world stage. It revolves around trade, the flow of investment, financial capital, division of labor and specialization. The concept is not limited only to economic variables since its effects extend to individuals, society to the state. Developing countries are experiencing stagnation in the face of their inability to cope with globalization, which is compounded by poor management of their financial markets, leading to an increase in the income inequality gap. Economic globalization brings with it the mobilization of goods and capital, reduces distance between borders and energizes international trade with some alterations to sovereignty.

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