Protecting Environment or People? Pitfalls and Merits of Informal Labour in the Congolese Recycling Industry

  • Clément Longondjo EtambakongaEmail author
  • Julia Roloff
Original Paper


Despite the fact that informal labour is a widespread phenomenon, the business ethics literature tends to describe it as a problem that needs to be overcome, rather than contemplating its merits. Informal labour is linked to poor working conditions, low-income and insufficient protection. However, it is also a survival strategy and upholds essential services, such as waste collection and recycling. Through the lens of postmodern ethics, we analyse 45 interviews with formal and informal waste management workers in Kinshasa. The study explores the functioning and limits of recycling services in a metropolis, focusing on the experience of African workers and entrepreneurs. A complex picture of ethical challenges and individual business and survival strategies emerges from the analysis. Our findings demonstrate that labour decisions of voiceless people cannot be reduced to being rational or desperate choices, but that they reflect a careful elaboration of currently available options and strategies for the future. The study contributes to our understanding of entrepreneurship in a post-conflict context, the role of informal labour in the functioning of formal businesses in Africa and the contribution of postmodern theory to the study of businesses in non-Western societies.


Informal sector Informal labour Recycling Waste management African entrepreneurship Postmodern ethics Post-conflict 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The author declares that he has no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Management and Organization DepartmentRennes School of BusinessRennes CedexFrance

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