A hawker is a vendor of merchandise that can be easily transported; the term is roughly synonymous with peddler or costermonger. In most places where the term is used, a hawker sells inexpensive items, handicrafts or food items. Whether stationary or mobile, hawkers often advertise by loud street cries or chants, and conduct banter with customers, so to attract attention and enhance sales.
When accompanied by a demonstration or detailed explanation of the product, the hawker is sometimes referred to as a demonstrator or pitchman.
The terms peddler and hawker are often used synonymously. Social commentator Henry Mayhew wrote "Among the more ancient of the trades, then carried on in England, is that of the hawker or pedlar" and also notes that "the hawker dealt, in the old times, more in textile fabrics than in anything else." In several passages of his work, Mayhew categorises hawkers, hucksters and peddlers as a single group of itinerant salesman and claims that he is unable to say what distinction was drawn between a hawker and a huckster. Mayhew estimated the number of licensed pedlars in 1861 as 14,038 in England, 624 in Wales and 2,561 in Scotland.
In many African metropolitan areas, hawkers commonly referred to as vendors are a very usual sight. They sell a wide range of goods such as fish, fruits, vegetables, clothes and books. In suburban areas, they go around announcing themselves from house to house. While in more commercial areas they usually have stands or lay their goods on the ground. In the afternoons you'll find many of them selling commercial goods on the more crowded parts of the cities, while at night they sell juices, tea and snack items. They sell goods at lower prices than shops making them an attractive shopping stop to people of low income.
According to the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation, there are 10 million street vendors in India, with Mumbai accounting for 250,000, Delhi has 200,000, Kolkata, more than 150,000, and Ahmedabad, 100,000. Most of them are immigrants or laid-off workers, work for an average 10–12 hours a day, and remain impoverished. Though the prevalent license-permit raj in Indian bureaucracy ended for most retailing in the 1990s, it continues in this trade. Inappropriate license ceiling in most cities, like Mumbai which has a ceiling 14,000 licenses, means more vendors hawk their goods illegally, which also makes them prone to the bribery and extortion culture under local police and municipal authories, besides harassment, heavy fines and sudden evictions. In Kolkata, the profession was a cognisable and non-bailable offense.
Over the years the street vendors have organized themselves into trade unions and associations, and numerous NGO's have started working for them. In fact, The National Association of Street Vendors of India (NASVI) based in Delhi, is a federation of 715 street vendor organizations, trade unions and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Kolkata has two such unions, namely the Bengal Hawkers Association and the Calcutta Hawkers' Men Union. In September, 2012, long-awaited Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act was introduced in the Lok Sabha (Lower of Indian Parliament) aimed at providing social security and livelihood rights, and regulated the prevalent license system. The Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha on 6 September 2013 and by the Rajya Sabha (upper house) on 19 February 2014. The bill received the assent of the President of India on 4 March 2014. Only three states have implemented the bill as of April 2017. The bill handed governance over public space and vendors over to municipalities. Although, one of the main purposes of the Street Vendors Act was to allow the vendors to have a voice in governance, the bill made conditions more difficult for vendors as they have become more heavily scrutinized.
Balut is a popular dish sold by hawkers in the Philippines, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. In both China and Hong Kong, hawkers' inventories often include fish ball, beef ball, butzaigo, roasted chestnuts, and stinky tofu. In Singapore and Malaysia, these stands have become so successful that many have chosen to set up shop more permanently in a hawker center.
Across Asia, stalls have been set up with little to no government monitoring. Due to health concerns and other liability problems, the food culture has been seriously challenged in Indonesia, though without marked success. However, in Hong Kong, the lease versus licensed hawker restrictions have put a burden on this mobile food culture. The term Jau Gwei (literally: running from ghosts) has been used to describe vendors often running away from local police.
Latin America and Caribbean
Street vendors in Latin America are known in local Spanish and Portuguese variously as vendedores ambulantes ("mobile vendors") or simply ambulantes, a term also used in Italy. In Argentina they are known as manteros. In Brazil, they are also known as "camelôs". Some ambulantes set up in a fixed location while others are mobile. Some ambulantes sell their goods door-to-door. Puestos are market stalls or stands.
There are sometimes disputes between established merchants and ambulantes. Bribes are also a problem. Many vendors operate illegally. In order to avoid overwhelming tourists or shoppers, ambulantes are known to establish territories and limit their numbers. Thieves stealing their goods can be a problem.
The street vendors in Argentina are known as manteros, after the Spanish word for blanket, manta. They sell varied products in an informal way, in most cases placing them over a blanket. They are, in their most part, illegal immigrants without documents and victims of human trafficking, subject to forced labor. They work at the sidewalks of locations with an important daily traffic, such as the Once railway station, the Retiro railway station, and the Florida Street. This commerce poses an illegal competition with the regular retail shops. The shops at the Avellaneda street estimated that the presence of manteros would make them lose 200 million pesos in the Christmas and holiday season.
According to the Confederación Argentina de la Mediana Empresa (CAME), as of December 2013 there were 463 manteros working in Once, 16.8% of the total in Buenos Aires. The daily sales of manteros are worth 300 million pesos in Buenos Aires, and 52 million in Once. A single mantero may earn between 2,000 and 3,500 in a day. The manteros are helped by retail shops at other locations, which store their products in the night, even if not allowed to work as warehouses.
The government of Buenos Aires tries to eradicate the manteros with police raids, removing them from the sidewalks and seizing their products. The police also made 35 successful search and seizures at illegal warehouses in January 2014. The manteros, however, return days after the raids. Still, the government attempts to weaken the organizations that back the manteros with the constant raids. The manteros reacted to the raids with demonstrations.
Law enforcement often enters into conflict – sometimes physical – with camelôs, for selling low-quality products (often imported from Asia), making improper use of public space (blocking sidewalks and pedestrian traffic), and for not paying the same taxes that licensed retailers pay. Their presence is considered to be a result of the alarming rise in unemployment, although their lifestyle might be better referred to as "subemployment." Many people who work as camelôs sell their products knowing that they are of low quality, and charge high prices nonetheless.
The word is borrowed from the French camelot, meaning "merchant of low-quality goods," and the term marreteiro is also sometimes used. The difference between camelôs and so-called "ambulantes" is that camelôs have fixed "storefronts" on a particular sidewalk, whereas "ambulantes" sell their wares throughout an area.
In the English-speaking Caribbean, hawkers are commonly referred to as higglers or informal commercial importers. They sell items in small roadside stands, public transit hubs, or other places where consumers would want items such as snacks, cigarettes, phone cards, or other less expensive items. Higglers often break larger items into small individual consumable portions for re-sale and use. Buying these items from more traditional vendors, farmers, or merchants for re-sale via their informal network in communities
The presence of Street vendors in Mexico City dates to the pre-Hispanic era and the government has struggled to control it, with the most recent clearing of downtown streets of vendors occurring in 2007. Still, there is a persistent presence of many thousands illegally. In 2003 it was estimated that there were 199,328 street vendors in Mexico City.
In Peru, water cannon were used against the ambulantes in Arequipa, Peru. Many of the ambulantes come from rural areas to sell their goods including prickly pear cactus, bordados (embroideries) and polleras (embroidered skirts).
In large cities across North America, hawkers are commonly known as street vendors, who sell snack items, such as deep-fried bananas, cotton candy, fried noodles, beverages like bubble tea, and ice cream, along with non-edible items, such as jewelry, clothes, books, and paintings. Hawkers are also found selling various items to fans at a sports venue; more commonly, this person is simply referred to as a stadium vendor.
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