Engaging with platform cooperatives to build a fairer digital economy

ILO participates and contributes to a multi-stakeholder dialogue that shed light on the platform cooperatives as a viable alternative in the platform economy and pathways towards strengthening platform cooperatives in Thailand.

News | 30 November 2023
The multi-stakeholder dialogue explored the potential for platform cooperatives as a viable alternative model to the capitalist platforms, and ways to develop the platform cooperatives as a practical solution in the Thai context.

The past decade has seen a fivefold increase in the number of digital labour platforms. While this has created opportunities for workers, businesses, and society by creating income-generating opportunities and unleashing innovation, this also poses concerns regarding workers’ conditions and labour rights. On this topic the ILO has produced, with IT for Change “Platform labour in search of value: A study of workers’ organizing practices and business models in the digital economy” in 2021. The report seeks to capture the new strategies being deployed by self-employed workers to reclaim their rights to decent work and a fair share of economic gains in the value networks of the emerging platform economy.

Trebor Scholz, a researcher and the founding director of the Institute for the Cooperative Digital Economy (ICDE) and the Platform Cooperativism Consortium (PCC), at The New School, in New York City, gave a presentation on platform cooperatives, defined as “a project or business that primarily uses a website, mobile app, or protocol to sell goods (e.g., data) or services, and relies on democratic decision-making and shared community ownership of the platform by workers and users.”

Platform cooperatives are owned and controlled by members, allowing workers to make decisions together. Scholz stated that as people-centric model, platform cooperatives prioritize the voices and needs of workers, giving them greater control over its apps, platforms, and protocols. In his newly released book, “Own this: How Platform Cooperatives Help Workers Build a Democratic Internet,” Scholz explores how platform cooperatives activate the cooperative principles, creating a more equitable economy that benefits everyone. He shared good examples such as Drivers Cooperative, a workers platform cooperative, owned collectively by the drivers in New York City, and SEWA Federation, a union and a cooperative federation in India that have experimented with the platform to empower socio-economically vulnerable women including women farmers, artisans, and care workers.

Scholz’s presentation was followed by introduction of two platform cooperative initiatives in Thailand, Tamsamg-Tamsong and Homecare Thailand by Akkanut Wantanasombut, a founder of community-based social and solidarity economy platforms in the country. A discussion ensured with representatives from the government, riders associations, practitioners, and academia. They shared the challenges faced by digital labor platform workers, including low pay, lack of social protection, data protection and bargaining power vis-à-vis the platform companies. Platform cooperatives face restrictive legal and policy regulations, lack of start-up funding, digital literacy, and business know-how. Participants agreed that all stakeholders can leverage their expertise and networks to support platform cooperatives to start and flourish in Thailand.

Heejin Ahn, Junior Technical Officer in ILO Bangkok remarked that platform cooperatives are an integral component of the social and solidarity economy and informed the audience about the mapping study and policy dialogue that is taking place in Thailand. She announced the findings from five countries of the Strengthening the Social and Solidarity Economy in Asia – Phase 2 project will be presented at the conference and study tour, which will take place in March 2024.

The meeting was organized by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung and Institute of Asian Studies, Chulalongkorn University. The participants voiced the need for collaboration between the ILO and the organizers of platform cooperative initiatives in Thailand and across the Asia and the Pacific region.