Street Vendors and the Law

Street vendors are an integral part of the world's urban economies, contributing to vibrant retail markets and providing an array of affordable, accessible goods and services to urban consumers.Street vending also provides a livelihood for those who have few employment options, including migrants and internally displaced people.

For more on the size and significance of the street vending population, their contributions and challenges, see Occupational Groups: Street Vendors.

Legal and Regulatory Frameworks

In many cities, the legal and regulatory environments governing street vending impede, rather than enable, the development of a healthy informal sector in which street vendors can meet the demand for their products. 

Street vendors may work from a fixed location (such as a kiosk or sidewalk table) or they may be mobile. Some combine fixed and mobile vending. Each type of work involves different regulatory challenges. Local permitting laws may restrict market entry. Zoning ordinances often restrict street vendors to areas that are inconvenient to both vendors and their customers.

Street vendors protesting evictions from the markets of Warwick Junction

Street vendors protesting evictions from the markets of Warwick Junction

The regulatory regimes governing where, when, and how vendors may work are often inconsistent, contradictory within a single area, or inconsistently enforced. Street vendors in many cities are forced to pay bribes or excessive fines/fees in order to work.

In urban planning decisions, the needs of street vendors and their customers are often dismissed as irrelevant to a modern city's growth. Street vendors are often evicted by force when their traditional vending sites overlap with sites for proposed development. And, like members of many sectors of the informal economy, street vendors are often left out of social protection schemes.

Resources on this site will help street vendors, their organizations, lawyers, researchers, advocates and policymakers understand the legal challenges around street vending. Some models for addressing those challenges can be found here, too.

HIGHLIGHT: India's National Policy & Law on Street Vending

India Street vendorFollowing a decades-long campaign by street vendors' associations, including the National Association of Street Vendors of India (NASVI) and the Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA), India's Parliament passed the National Policy on Street Vendors (revised 2009) in early 2014. (The country's Supreme Court, having recognized the importance of street vending to India's urban economies and the unique vulnerabilities of street vendors, had ordered the government to enact a law for the protection of street vendors no later than 2011.) India is the first country to create adopt progressive, centralized legislation relating to street vending.

The Bill has several provisions to protect livelihood, social security and human rights. However, it is not perfect─for example, its participatory provisions for street vendors in local decision-making bodies are weaker than in the National Policy, and it delegates many of the lawmaking duties to state or municipal governments. Nonetheless, it represents an important step in recognizing street vendors as important members of the urban economy, and in guaranteeing them consideration and representation in urban planning processes.

Resources

Publications

Laws on Street Vending

Court Cases and Judgments on Street Vendors' Rights

Law Project Reports on Street Vendors

News on Street Vending and the Law

More Information on Street Vending