We’re delighted to announce the release of our first major report, The Five Pillars of Fairwork. This report is the culmination of many months of fieldwork, background research, and stimulating engagement with a variety of stakeholders, from the International Labour Organisation (ILO), policy makers and trade unions, to platform workers and owners in Bangalore, Cape Town and Johannesburg. In it, we take a deep dive into the work we did this past year, showcase our findings, and present our plans for the future.
What’s the report about?
An estimated 30 million people in the Global South work in the platform economy, where they do freelance or short term jobs that are outsourced to them through digital platforms or apps. Such ‘gigs’ provide essential income and opportunities to many. However, due to a lack of protection in the form of employment law or collective bodies, many platform workers face low pay, precarious job security, and poor and dangerous working conditions.
Our goal at the Fairwork Project is to imagine, and ultimately realise, a different, fairer platform economy than the one we have today. We do this by evaluating the working conditions of digital platforms against five ‘principles of fairness’, and scoring them on how well (or poorly) they do. In this way, we hold platforms to account for the kind of work they provide, so that ultimately, platform workers can benefit from receiving better working conditions.
In the first year of our operations (2018-19), we evaluated twenty-two large and influential companies in two contexts: twelve platforms in India (Bangalore), and ten platforms in South Africa (Cape Town and Johannesburg). To do this, we took as our starting point the five Fairwork principles that we co-developed through a number of workshops that brought together various stakeholders within and beyond the two countries:
- Principle 1: Fair Pay
- Principle 2: Fair Conditions
- Principle 3: Fair Contracts
- Principle 4: Fair Management
- Principle 5: Fair Representation
For each of these five principles (or pillars), platforms can receive a maximum of two points, and therefore a maximum score of ten points. Points are awarded to platforms based on the number of principles that they are able to demonstrate their compliance with. But we don’t just base our scores on what platforms tell us – we cross-check the evidence that platforms provide with direct testimony from workers, and we also conduct desk research to gather public information about platforms and their workers (such as the provision of particular services to workers, or ongoing disputes).
In this manner, we gave the chosen twenty-two Indian and South African platforms scores out of ten. A striking finding from this first round of ratings was that, while 88% of South African platforms scored 5/10 or more, only 9% of Indian platforms achieved the same score range.
The Fairwork principles and rankings have already made modest but important contributions to improving work standards at some of the companies we have assessed. A great example of this is the South African platform NoSweat, which implemented minimum wage, health & safety, and grievance policies after engaging with the Fairwork Foundation. Similarly, another South African platform Bottles committed to supporting the emergence of independent, collective worker representation on its platform. These achievements point to even greater possibilities in the future.
The Five Pillars of Fairwork report explains our approach in more detail: it lays out the underlying context of the global platform economy, the five Fairwork principles and how we assess platforms against them, the scores we gave to the companies we evaluated in India and South Africa, and the differences and similarities across these two diverse labour markets.
What’s next for us?
We’re very encouraged by the results so far, and it’s led us to broaden our sights for the next phase of the project. In our second year of operations, we’ve put out a call for companies who wish to get certified by us, and expanded our project’s scope to include platforms in Chile, Ecuador, Germany, Indonesia, and the UK.
We look forward to building on our initial success as we roll out the Fairwork principles to other countries. Look out for more details over the coming months from the second year of the Fairwork project!