Fair play campaign, Denmark


Target Groups: 

The Fair Play Campaign (Fairplay-kampagnen) launched in Denmark in 2004 is a mixture of controls and severe penalties, combined with raising awareness and changing behaviour through targeted campaigns. Employers are required to keep a log book of employees as well as a professional accountant if irregularities are detected. Another successful measure is advance warning of workplace inspections in particular regions and economic sectors.


The Danish Ministry of Taxation (Skatteministeriet) launched a Fair Play Campaign in 2004, which is still running. ‘Fair play’ is about knowing the rules of the game and playing according to them. The campaign is a way to create awareness among private persons and companies of the rules of the labour market, and to prevent them from committing social fraud by avoiding paying tax or receiving undeclared cash benefits on top of low wages.

The campaign is spearheaded by the Ministry of Taxation, with the participation of the tax authorities (SKAT), the Ministry of Employment (Beskæftigelsesministeriet), the labour inspectorate and the police. The social partner organisations also took part in at least one campaign initiative. A special taskforce has been set up under the National Directorate of Labour (Arbejdsdirektoratet).


The aim of the campaign is to detect undeclared work and illegal work. The project consists of the following three equally important parts:

  • continued focus on rules and provisions that facilitate the control of undeclared work, and a focus on possibilities to issue more severe penalties;
  • increased inspection efforts by authorities, including ministries, departments and the police;
  • launch of specific campaigns aiming to change employers’ and workers’ attitudes and behaviour.

The campaign has particularly targeted young people, immigrants, shop owners and workers on construction sites, as well as persons in other economic sectors where undeclared work is prevalent.

Specific measures

Different initiatives have been made as part of the overall programme, mainly consisting of a mixture of campaigns and control visits. Among the more innovative measures is the obligation on small companies to use external professional accountants when inconsistent data are observed in the book-keeping. Another provision is the requirement to use ‘log books’ when irregularities are detected in the official staff information. The employer must note when a particular employee begins work. This measure was initiated to tackle the problem that often arose of both the employer and employee claiming that the latter had just started in the company ‘today’ when they were inspected by the labour authorities.

A recent initiative, launched in April 2008, is the so-called ‘immediate activity offer option’ (straksaktivering). If the authorities detect that a person working for an employer also receives cash payments or unemployment benefit, they can force the person to accept a job or activity offer.

One of the first projects was a commercial campaign where professional, well-known athletes and football players spoke about fair play: ‘Without fair play it does not work.’

A further measure that is currently being used as part of the strategy to combat undeclared work is to notify companies that, in the near future, a particular economic sector in a specific region can expect visits from the tax authorities. A number of new construction sites in a certain area would be a typical example. Other fields of economic activity considered as high priority in this regard are hotels and restaurants, pizzerias, bakeries, kiosk retail outlets, security activities and temporary agency work. Sectors and regions due for inspection are listed on the tax authorities’ website.

Posters on buses and television commercials, as well as free humorous ‘go-cards’ in bars and cafés, are general provisions aiming to raise awareness that undeclared work is not acceptable. The message is that it is not merely civil disobedience to perform undeclared work for a neighbour; it is tax evasion and punishable by law.

Evaluation and outcome

Achievement of objectives

In cases of ‘immediate activation’, the employer usually hires the person in question on a full-time employment contract; they will both receive a fine. During the information campaign where a particular region and economic sector are warned beforehand of forthcoming inspections, the advance notice results in numerous people registering as new employees. Other effects are difficult to establish. People who are detected doing undeclared work mostly work for an employer, in a pizzeria for instance, while at the same time receiving unemployment benefits. Students and immigrants working in the hotels and restaurants sector or construction sector are also commonly found engaged in undeclared work; these areas of economic activity are relatively easy to control. However, activities of households and multiple jobholding – known as ‘moonlighting’ – are much more difficult to monitor.

EU enlargement in 2004 resulted in an unexpected and relatively high influx of eastern European labour migrants to Denmark. Therefore, the fair play programme developed some special control and cooperation initiatives among the social partners, tax authorities, Danish migration service and the police with the aim of reducing illegal work activities. The latter mainly included work without a formal work permit or without paying tax. As labour migration increasingly has appeared in Denmark through foreign service providers and their posted workers, detecting illegality has now a somewhat broadened focus, including the registration of the service providers and their payment of value-added tax (VAT).

Obstacles and problems

The problem concerning raising awareness and changing attitudes and behaviour is linked to the very high tax level in Denmark and a mutual feeling among customers and service providers that, from time to time, it is acceptable to carry out small services without involving the tax authorities. A sentiment sometimes expressed is: ‘Why always bother with all this bureaucracy.’ This problem generally concerns the comparatively innocent occasional activities of households. However, a more serious problem is conscious social fraud combined with doing undeclared work – in other words, when a person works in a company or shop without paying tax and at the same time receives unemployment benefits. These types of activities were detected in the hotel cleaning industry, where women from outside Europe – mainly Asia – were forced to work for a low wage while receiving supplementary benefits or full benefits at the same time.

A practical problem for detecting cases of undeclared work is that much of this work, especially in activities of households, is hard to uncover – unless other citizens report the situation. Employers in the construction sector, for example, tend to look the other way when employees use the tool kit or company car to do some moonlighting during the weekend.

Lessons learnt

It appears to be impossible to completely eradicate undeclared work in Denmark. However, according to the Minister of Taxation, Kristian Jensen, the campaigns have had a positive effect and help to keep undeclared work at a low level. Advance warning of imminent inspections seems to be an effective measure to tackle undeclared work.

Impact indicators

The volume of undeclared work has in general declined in the period from 2001 to 2005. The market value of undeclared work in 2005 amounted to DKK 46 billion (€6.1 billion as at 9 February 2009) – or 3% of gross domestic product (GDP) (Table 1). In 2005, Danish people worked 153 million ‘undeclared’ hours compared with 207 million such hours in 2001.

Table 1: Undeclared work in Denmark, 1994–2005 (%)
  1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005
% of GDP













Note: n.d. = no data.

Source: Larsen, C., Rockwool Foundation Research Unit (Rockwool Fondens Forskningsenhed), 2006

Undeclared work among men has declined in terms of number of hours while women’s undeclared work has increased (Table 2). Nevertheless, men still perform a greater proportion of undeclared activities than women do. Due to the significant reduction among men, the overall result is that undeclared work has decreased since its peak in 2001.

Table 2: Undeclared work in Denmark, 2001 and 2005, by sex (%)
  Women Men
2001 2005 2001 2005
% of GDP





Source: Larsen, 2006


It is difficult to assess the transferability of the Fair Play Campaign to other countries because this would require some knowledge about the informal economy in the countries in question. However, the initiative could be launched in countries where the citizens observe the law as a set of necessary rules rather than regarding it as a declaration of intent.

Elements of the campaign should be effective in most countries, such as the obligation to maintain a staff log book and the advance warning of inspections.


The Fair Play Campaign mainly expands on detection and penalties. Its success is a little overshadowed by the assumption that, in good economic times, undeclared work is less widespread. The converse of this theory will now have the opportunity to be verified. After several years of economic growth, recession is being experienced in Denmark among other countries in the wake of the global economic crisis. It will be interesting to observe whether higher unemployment in the construction sector will result in more undeclared work – or whether the flexibility of the Fair Play Campaign will prove able to control the sector.


Main organisation involved: Ministry of Taxation (Skatteministeriet)





Larsen, C., Sort arbejde er faldet, Nyt fra Rockwool Fondens Forskningsenhed, Copenhagen, Rockwool Foundation Research Unit, April 2006, available online at: www.rff.dk/fileadmin/dokumenter/Danske_nyhedsbreve/apr2006.pdf.

Pedersen, S., The shadow econ omy in Germany, Great Britain and Scandinavia. A measurement based on questionnaire surveys, Study No. 10, Copenhagen, Rockwool Foundation Research Unit, 2003.

Viby Mogensen, G., Danmarks uformelle økonomi, Copenhagen, Rockwool Foundation Research Unit and Spektrum, 2003.

Carsten Jørgensen, FAOS

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