Ensuring digital platforms treat workers fairly

When you jump into an Uber taxi do you think how that driver ensures they have a stable income and fair working conditions?

A team of researchers including those from Manchester’s Centre for Development Informatics has published the world’s first ever rating system for working conditions in the digital economy – that’s people working through platforms and apps such as Uber and Deliveroo, which are growing all over the world.

The rankings look at how platforms like Uber and Taxify perform against five standards – fair pay, fair conditions, fair contracts, fair management, and fair representation. These include whether a company pays the minimum wage and ensures the health and safety of its workers.

The intention is to guide customers, workers, investors and others to make more informed decisions in relation to decent work standards in the digital economy.

The rankings currently cover India and South Africa as a pilot and have already resulted in changes being made to working conditions. After collaborating with Fairwork, the South African platform Bottles committed to supporting the emergence of fair workers representation on its platform, free from company interference and the No Sweat platform introduced significant changes in all five areas of fairness.

There are more than seven million people working through digital platforms, and while this work provides essential income and opportunities it also lacks protection from employment law or collective bodies. Many platform workers face low pay, precarity, and poor and dangerous working conditions.

Professor Richard Heeks from the Centre from Development Informatics said: “The Fairwork rating system shines a light on best and worst practice in the platform economy. This is an area in which for too long, very few regulations have been in place to protect workers. These ratings will enable consumers to make informed choices about the platforms and services they need when ordering a cab, a takeaway or outsourcing a simple task.

Researchers from the University of Oxford, the University of Cape Town, IIITB, the Technical University of Berlin, the University of Manchester, the University of the Western Cape, and WZB came together to inform Fairwork’s rating system, translate principles into measurable thresholds.