Areas of Expertise

Informal Economy

Informal Economy
© ILO/M. Crozet

A trader - Maya

Maya operates a small business that buys vegetables in Vietnam and sells it in Cambodia. The business is composed of herself (manager), her elder brother (driver) and a female employee in charge of the distribution of the goods to clients in Cambodia.

The business model is easy. Maya and her brother drive to Vietnam in the morning, buy garlic in a small town close to the border and drive back to Cambodia in the evening. They generally undertake this trip two times a week. Depending on the season, they bring vegetables from Cambodia to Vietnam, selling them to their business contacts in the same border town. Maya and her brother know well the customs officers working at the border and regularly buy them some gifts.

The garlic is sold to local shops and restaurants in Maya’s home town in Cambodia. Maya’s clients are regular customers and her sales have been stable over the years. She has not seen any increase in her sales though, because the town where she lives and works is quite remote and no new restaurants or shops have been opened. Whereas the overall Cambodian economy has been growing over the past years, this growth has not translated to any increase in sales or income for Maya’s business. Income from the business, though, has covered the cost of living of Maya and her two employees.  

So far, Maya’s business is completely informal. It is not registered with the municipality, it is not paying taxes and the salaries are paid informally without any social security contributions. From time to time informal taxes need to be paid to local policemen in order for Maya not to get into trouble.

Maya is tired of the routine and she is worried about the lack of growth prospects. She dreams about starting a formal import-export business as this may allow her to diversify the range of products she could be trading and increase the volume as she could be eligible for a bank loan. She fears, however, that she may not have the right qualifications to open such a business. She has also heard that opening a business formally may increases certain costs. She has not shared her ambitions with anybody as people would probably just be laughing about her



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