IT for Change hosts a webinar on the potential of cooperatives as a means to organize workers in the platform economy

IT for Change organized a session “Going co-op: A platform model for workers in the South” as part of RightsCon, an annual summit bringing together multidisciplinary actors from technologists, business leaders, and activists to journalists, and academics from all around the world to tackle the most pressing issues of human rights and technology.

News | 29 July 2020
The session brought together renowned panelists from the Global North and South under one of the central themes, “Alternative models for business and labor” to collectively brainstorm on the following question: how can we build truly viable and resilient models of platform economy that maximize social and collective interests of workers’ rights?

The moderator for the event, Anita Gurumurthy, the Executive Director of the IT for Change set the context by providing an overview of the deterioration of working conditions among workers in the platform economy. Referring to findings from a study undertaken by IT for Change for ILO, she underlined the role that cooperatives play and can further play in organizing workers in the platform economy.

The first speaker, James Farrar from ADCU, a Union of app drivers and couriers in the UK stressed the importance of recognizing Uber drivers as employees, rather than self-employed and ensuring adequate protection (i.e. holiday pay, overtime pay, freedom from discrimination, sick leave). He emphasized collective power should be leveraged in the platform economy to ensure right to access all personal data on the platform, including telematics data and protection from automation of decision-making.

The second speaker, Sofia Scassera, an Economist from the World Labor Institute showcased the encouraging trends of platform cooperatives in Latin America – in this new model, cooperatives work hand-in-hand with platform workers to develop open-source software to empower the workers and share its gains. To further encourage such development in the Global South, she called on relevant stakeholders to implement two actions: i) raise public awareness that technology is not just given but we can construct it in a way that is useful for all and 2) build alliances between unions and cooperatives to ensure better workers’ rights.

The third panelist, Nathan Schneider, Assistant Professor from University of Colorado provided examples of approaches of data cooperatives such as MIDATA a Swiss cooperative that gives people control over their medical data, and Driver’s Seat, a driver-owned cooperative helping gig workers own and use their data so the maximize their income. He also provided some examples of emerging labor models in platform cooperativism, such as the Cooperative Economy Act (CEA) , the draft legislation in California that combines collective bargaining rights with equity for gig economy workers in California’s many industries affected by COVID-19 pandemic. He underlined the importance of building a strategy for public and private finance that incorporates cooperatives to undermine the dominant monopoly platforms.

As a final speaker, Anita Gurumurthy, the Executive Director of IT for Change presented key research findings from report for the ILO that examines workers’ organizing practices and business models in the digital economy. The findings from the research revealed that choices of techno-design architecture matters as much as business structure (i.e. funding strategy, distribution) in the creation of platform enterprises in the social and solidarity economy tradition. The conclusions from the research underlined the need for an enabling policy environment to be co-constructed by the constituents, namely workers’ organizations, governments, and platform companies to further the economic and political rights of platform workers.

Following the panel session, a lively Q&A session ensured reflections from the participants on key questions such as making data available for public use while protecting data privacy, monitoring data & data access and fair use of data, ensuring accountability and democratic agreement among all relevant stakeholders (i.e. consumers, trade unions, workers and citizens). The discussion also highlighted the need for leveraging the digital economy to inject creativity and innovation into the future of cooperative movement to better respond to the contemporary challenges. The session concluded with each speaker presenting two most important actions that could help propel the workers’ movement forward in the platform economy.

The full program of the RightsCon is available here.