The ‘Fairwork France Ratings 2022: Towards Better Working Conditions on Bicycle Delivery Platforms’ report evaluates the fairness of working conditions at six bicycle delivery companies.
Once considered slow starters in the global gig economy, digital labour platforms operating in France now have millions of customers each month. By 2021, 46% of the French population used food delivery services (up from 40% in 2020) and in January of2021, it was estimated that Uber Eats covered 51% of this market, Deliveroo 41%, and Just Eat 6%.
The Fairwork France team at the Audencia Business School began investigating working conditions in the French platform economy during the COVID-19 pandemic, when bicycle couriers were some of the only people allowed on the streets of French cities and towns. During this time, these couriers were among the much-heralded front-line workers, although they did not receive the same kind of attention, let alone the same level of protection as workers in other sectors. It is fitting, then, that the first Fairwork France report analyses the fairness of working conditions at bicycle delivery platforms.
As in many other countries, French debates about the gig economy have focused on the legal status of delivery drivers – as self-employed workers or as contracted employees. This year’s initial findings reveal that working conditions at platforms are better for workers who have an employment contract than for those who are self-employed. Such contracts, however, tend to come with higher costs for employers, putting platforms that choose this model in a more fragile position than their competitors. Thus, companies may opt for cost-saving subcontracting models – even if they are to the detriment of riders’ working conditions.
Just Eat, Coursiers Nantais, Deliveroo, Naofood, Stuart, and Uber Eats have been scored against five principles of fair work: Fair Pay, Fair Conditions, Fair Contracts, Fair Management, and Fair Representation. Evidence as to whether platforms comply with these five principles was collected through desk research, interviews with workers, or provided by platforms themselves. The evidence was then used to assign a Fairwork score out of ten* to each platform.
Just Eat tops the ratings with 8 points and Coursiers Nantais comes in second place with 7. The remaining platforms – Deliveroo, Naofood, Stuart and Uber Eats – all scored 4. These results show both that working conditions vary considerably between the bicycle delivery platforms operating in France, and that there is wide scope for improvement in this sector. Furthermore, it is worrying that the platform that received the highest score this year (Just Eat), announced that it will keep the employment contract model only in the country’s seven largest cities (representing about 75% of their business), and it will subcontract the delivery work in other locations to another platform (Stuart) later this year. If this decision is indeed implemented, their score is likely to drop considerably in next year’s rating.
Fairwork France aims to generate a better understanding of the conditions of work and life of French gig workers and to contribute to improving them. By informing the French public of platforms’ services and highlighting the companies that have more responsible practices, the team hopes to stimulate the entire sector to improve itself. Research will be conducted each year to track platform developments, and will expand beyond the delivery sector to other types of services.
*Note that a score of 10 does not certify that the working conditions at the platform are completely fair. Rather, a score of 10 means that the platform has shown evidence of working conditions that meet minimum standards of fairness.
Fair pay: Only two platforms (Coursiers Nantais and Just Eat) guarantee that their workers are all paid (at least) the minimum wage, namely those that offer all their workers permanent employment contracts. However, as indicated above, Just Eat has recently announced that it will probably maintain this contract model only in the seven largest cities in which it operates and will use a subcontractor in other locations.
Fair working conditions: Bicycle couriers are mostly paid per delivery and are therefore under constant pressure to ride as fast as possible, which is both stressful and dangerous. Only three platforms (Coursiers Nantais, Just Eat and Naofood) offer workers sufficient protection for health and safety, and only two (Coursiers Nantais and Just Eat) ensure that workers continue to be paid in cases of accident or illness; this is because employment contracts require such provisions under French labour law.
Fair contracts: All the platforms use contracts written in French and make them accessible to their workers at all times. However, only one platform’s contract (Just Eat) contains no unfair clauses. The two local platforms (Coursiers Nantais and Naofood) have non-competition clauses in their contracts, which are problematic because they restrict the freedom to work.
Fair management: All six platforms we studied have put in place mechanisms that enable workers to communicate with a manager. However, many of the workers we interviewed criticised the use of chatbots and foreign call centres, saying that they would like more face-to-face contact. Only the local platforms (Coursiers Nantais and Naofood) currently seem to offer such opportunities, although we learned that some big platforms (Deliveroo and Uber Eats) had originally supported personal interactions during their launch phase, but did not maintain them after establishing themselves on the market. Three platforms (Just Eat, Stuart and Uber Eats) have formalised anti-discrimination and diversity policies and so reach the threshold for the second point.
Fair representation: All the platforms have started to introduce steps towards dialogue, anticipating the law that the French Parliament is currently preparing on this topic, which means they achieved the first threshold. This trend shows the effectiveness of the state’s regulation of social dialogue. However, only the cooperative Coursiers Nantais currently offers its workers any real power to influence decision-making. It is therefore the only platform to have received both points.
As part of Fairwork’s commitment to making platforms accountable for their labour practices, we have launched the Fairwork Pledge. This pledge aims to encourage other organisations to support decent labour practices in the platform economy, guided by the five principles of fair work.
Organisations like universities, schools, businesses, investors and charities that make use of platform labour can make a difference by supporting platforms that offer better working conditions.
Organisations have the option to sign up to the Pledge as an official Fairwork Supporter or an official Fairwork Partner. Those signing up to be a Supporter must demonstrate their support for fairer platform work publicly and provide their staff with appropriate resources to make informed decisions about what platforms to use. Becoming a Fairwork Partner entails making a public commitment to implement changes in their own internal practices, such as committing to using better-rated platforms when there is a choice.
The Oxford Internet Institute, The University of Oxford School of Geography and the Environment, The Church of England Diocese of Oxford, the Good Business Charter, The New Economics Foundation and Meatspace Press have already signed the pledge. Join them in demanding a fairer future of work.