Developing principles for fair online platform work

17 Apr 2018 11:30h - 13:00h

Event report

[Read more session reports from the UNCTAD E-Commerce Week 2018]

Mr Mark Graham (Professor of Internet Geography, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford) started by introducing the speakers and providing a background for the discussion, summarising some concerning work practices in the platform job market, such as precarious work conditions and long work hours. He mentioned that governments and labour unions know little about these problems, nothing that it is necessary to develop standards and some certification for well-behaved platforms to encourage platforms to live up to their moral responsibilities.

Mr Jamie Woodcock, (Researcher, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford) asked participants to meet in break-out groups to discuss the shortcomings of platform work and the positive work conditions that should be in place. Groups would then report their discussions to the plenary.

Some of the points that group leaders reported back to the plenary were the following:

  • Platforms should offer equal payment, regardless of gender.
  • Payment should be made in a useful form of currency. In the case of Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, for example, if the worker is not based in the United States or India, they are paid in Amazon gift cards.
  • Workers from several platforms face issues with non-payment. Escrow payment methods are a good way to mitigate the non-payment problem.
  • Minimum or fair payment should be offered across all platform types.
  • Social security should be provided, and platforms, along with the state, need to contribute to their provision.
  • Platforms should respect human rights, such as data protection.
  • Platform profile portability should be made possible. Currently, the worker needs to start from nothing to build their reputation, if they want to change platforms.
  • Platforms should provide opportunities for the skilling of workers – for example, online courses, online coaching.
  • Mechanisms for contesting negative reviews by consumers should be made available to workers.  
  • Platforms should ensure that there is a responsive line of human contact and communication in case of problems or if the worker wants to present suggestions for improvement of the platform.

Graham asked for points of disagreement with regard to the list presented. Participants called attention to the controversy around the concept of decent work. In some countries, labour rights are not respected in traditional offline work relations. They also mentioned the need for caution regarding the discussion on taxation. States want to tax platforms because they are interested in increasing their revenue, but these resources will not necessarily be used to benefit the workers.


By Marilia Maciel