IGF 2021 WS #179
The future of workers' rights in a digital economy

Organizer 1: Deepti Bharthur, IT for Change
Organizer 2: Daniel Bertossa, Public Services International
Organizer 3: Merling Lara, International Trade Union Confederation

Speaker 1: Sadhana Sanjay, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group
Speaker 2: Daniel Bertossa, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 3: Merling Lara, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)


Merling Lara, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Online Moderator

Deepti Bharthur, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group


Deepti Bharthur, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group


Round Table - Circle - 60 Min

Policy Question(s)

Social inequality and the pandemic: What can be learned from the COVID-19 pandemic context about the relationship between digital inequality and social and economic inequality? Similarly, what lessons can be drawn with respect to the pandemic and Internet-related human rights? What does this suggest about policy approaches for digitalisation and digital inclusion?
Economic and social inclusion and sustainable development: What is the relationship between digital policy and development and the established international frameworks for social and economic inclusion set out in the Sustainable Development Goals and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in treaties such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Conventions on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, on the Rights of the Child, and on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities? How do policy makers and other stakeholders effectively connect these global instruments and interpretations to national contexts?

Digital advances have created a new set of realities for workers to contend with. The increasing digitalising of value chains across sectors have proliferated non-standard work arrangements causing workers' precarity, by circumventing traditional labour rights of social protection, collective bargaining, and fair wages, among others. Additionally, the primacy of data as an economic resource has seen companies harvest data from their workers, by subjecting them to constant data-based surveillance and algorithmic management. The pandemic has both accelerated the pace of digital uptake in the value chain as well as exacerbated the precarity of workers. A digitally driven future of work therefore, asks us to contend with the challanges of traditional labour rights, while throwing into relief issues of workers' data protection, privacy, and economic rights over data. The digital divide is also likely to widen inequality, as access to work, employment benefits and social protection is increasingly predicated on access to digital devices and the internet. Our session aims to take stock of these issues by elevating the lived experiences of workers, and developing a roadmap to put into action an agenda to protect the future of workers' rights, with a sharp focus on Southern contexts and inclusive international development.


8. Decent Work and Economic Growth

Targets: While advances in technology have the potential to be harnessed to accelerate our progress towards realising SDG targets, they are also capable of derailing existing progress and opening up new realities to contend with. The issue of workers' rights is one such example. In an era where technology behemoths are able skirt labour regulation, lobby to be exempt from labour legislation, and capitalise on "labouring data" extracted from their workers to ramp up surveillance and the use of artificial intelligence, the question of how to ensure decent work for all and inclusive economic growth is more relevant than ever. This issue has only gained traction in the context of the pandemic, where digitalisation has accelerated and the need for secure and decent work is more pressing. Our proposal aims to approach this issue from the perspective of different stakeholders, and develop a roadmap for achieving this SDG in the context of a technology and data driven future of work.


An agenda for labour rights in the age of digital advances requires the reclamation of the rights of social protection, collective bargaining and fair wages, so as to alleviate the precarity that has come to characterise work in the digital economy. However, what is needed is developing a workers' data rights agenda that accounts for perils and forms of dispossession unique to the digital economy. This agenda must be one that recognises workers’ civil and political rights, but also economic rights over data that they create and provide, but are alienated from. We will bring a critical lens to the digital capture of global value chains and provide a Southern perspective to the concerns of workers and labour. Our roundtable will platform the views of different stakeholders on this pressing issue, while encouraging regular participation and interventions from the audience so as to evolve an actionable agenda for workers' rights.

Expected Outcomes

Through this session, we aim to bring together trade unions, workers, digital rights activists, and civil society to discuss emerging labour issues in the digital economy. We aim to facilitate an open dialogue between the various stakeholders on reclaiming workers' civil, political and economic rights for the digital age and broadening its frontier to include data protection and governance frameworks. We hope to use this opportunity to build cross-stakeholder alliances on realising this goal, and developing a roadmap for putting this agenda into action with a keen focus on Global South contexts.

This session will bring together different stakeholder groups with a view to giving all their viewpoints and inputs equal representation. We aim to intersperse inputs from speakers with interventions from participants, to surface different perspectives on this pressing issue. By combining the inputs of these groups with participant interactions, we aim to evolve a solidarity agenda for the future of workers' rights grounded in the lived experiences of workers and buttressed by the contributions of activists and researchers.

Online Participation

Usage of IGF Official Tool.