By Kelle Howson, Hannah Johnston, Nancy Salem, Robbie Warin, Fabian Ferrari, Yihan Zhu, Pablo Aguera Reneses, Funda Ustek-Spilda, Daniel Arubayi, Srujana Katta, Shelly Steward, Matthew Cole, Adam Badger, and Mark Graham.
New report presents the first round of Fairwork ratings for Cloudwork platforms. These ratings evaluate the working conditions on 17 global freelance and microwork platforms including Amazon MTurk, Upwork and Fiverr.
Remote working has become rapidly normalised as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This trend has been aided and accompanied by explosive growth in the online gig economy. The International Labour Organisation calculates that digital labour platforms have proliferated five-fold in the last decade. With this growth has come new opportunities for workers from all over the world to participate in a planetary scale labour market. However, this new model has also introduced and exacerbated risks and harms for workers, drawing them out of the purview and protection of labour regulations ensuring minimum wage, social safety nets, and protection from discrimination and unfair dismissal. As a result, many digital labour platforms that mediate remote work are characterised by unfair and unjust working conditions, and workers have experienced vulnerability, precarity, and an erosion of their structural power to challenge poor conditions. While work in the planetary labour market is detached from the geographies that workers are enmeshed in, risks, harms, and vulnerabilities continue to be geographically uneven, mapping on to colonial and extractive economic legacies.
This report presents the first Fairwork ratings for cloudwork platforms. Cloudwork, or crowdsourcing’ platforms are companies that mediate that can be done remotely from translation and design gigs to short microtasks that help train AI systems. Cloudwork is essentially gig work that can be done from anywhere with an internet connection.
Cloudwork’ is work that can be performed remotely via a digital labour platform and can range from tasks that require a matter of seconds or minutes to complete, like data labelling and image categorisation used to train AI systems, to longer more specialised jobs, like translation, design, illustration, and web development.
Our ratings show that most cloudwork platforms are not meeting minimum standards of fair pay, fair conditions, fair contracts, fair management, and fair representation. However, some platforms have chosen to incorporate standards of fairness into their design and operations—including as a result of engagement with Fairwork researchers. This shows that platforms can choose to address harms and injustices in the global gig economy.
Drawing on desk research, dialogue with platform managers, and a survey of 792 workers in 75 countries, we have given 17 platforms a score out of 10 based on their fairness towards workers. The scores are based on five principles and ten thresholds of fair cloudwork, developed by the Fairwork project in consultation with platforms, workers, researchers, and other stakeholders. We only award a company a point if clear evidence is available that it is met.
The 17 platforms we evaluated achieved scores ranging from zero to seven out of 10, showing a large variability in the fairness of the work offered by cloudwork platforms. Despite a few platforms achieving high scores, the majority of the platforms failed to evidence that basic standards of fairness are met. However, the fact that some platforms are actively choosing to do better by their workers, shows that this is a choice that all platforms can and should make.
- Fair Pay: Only 2 of the 11 platforms, Workana and Appen, had policies to ensure that the vast majority of workers earned at least their local minimum wage
- Fair Conditions: 12 out of 17 platforms provided protection from the task-related risks in their daily work
- Fair Contracts: Only 5 of the 17 platforms analysed provided evidence of clear and accessible contracts or terms of service that did not require workers to waive key rights to legal challenges like class actions
- Fair Management: Over half of all platforms, 9 out of 17, had a formal due process in place enabling workers to appeal decisions like job rejections and account suspension
- Fair Representation: Only 3 platforms, Appen, Clickworker and Jovoto could demonstrate that workers had access to fair representation
The first Fairwork cloudwork ratings establish a baseline understanding of labour standards on selected prominent platforms. This will be built upon in subsequent annual ratings, incorporating more platforms including more non-English-language platforms. The findings of this report are intended to serve as a resource for workers, consumers, platforms, and regulators in delineating and defining standards of fair cloudwork, better understanding the range of current practices, and driving towards a fairer future of platform work.
More and more professions are undergoing platformisation, especially since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, including some that might not have obviously lent themselves to remote working—such as medical consultation, and sex work. In this context of accelerating platformisation, there is an urgent need to establish conventions of fairness for cloudwork, to expand and enforce labour protections for cloudworkers, and to hold platforms responsible and accountable for the working conditions they impose.
The Fairwork Pledge
As part of Fairwork’s commitment to making platforms accountable for their practices, we created the Fairwork Pledge. The pledge aims to encourage other organisations to support best labour practices, guided by the five principles of fair work.
Organisations like universities, schools, businesses, and charities who make use of platform labour can make a difference by supporting the best labour practices, guided by our five principles of fair work. You 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 in their supply chains. Becoming a Fairwork Partner entails making a public commitment to implement changes in their own practices, such as committing to using better-rated platforms when there is a choice.