IGF 2021 WS #232 Mind the gap: digital labor and international frameworks

Time
Thursday, 9th December, 2021 (12:50 UTC) - Thursday, 9th December, 2021 (14:20 UTC)
Room
Ballroom A

Organizer 1: Technical Community, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)
Organizer 2: Technical Community, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)
Organizer 3: Technical Community, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)
Organizer 4: Technical Community, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)

Speaker 1: Angeliki Moraiti, Intergovernmental Organization, Intergovernmental Organization
Speaker 2: Rafael Grohman, Technical Community, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)
Speaker 3: Yaseen Aslam, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Additional Speakers

Uma Rani, ILO, Intergovernmental Organization, Asia-Pacific Group
Thomas Anning Dorson, Fairwork Foundation, Civil Society, African Group

Format

Round Table - U-shape - 90 Min

Policy Question(s)

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?
Promoting equitable development and preventing harm: How can we make use of digital technologies to promote more equitable and peaceful societies that are inclusive, resilient and sustainable? How can we make sure that digital technologies are not developed and used for harmful purposes? What values and norms should guide the development and use of technologies to enable this?

Is the use of digital technologies promoting more equitable and inclusive societies? Nowadays we can find many different examples of policy initiatives that unleashed the full potential of the Internet in generating opportunities and empowerment, hence enhancing quality of life. However, as have been seen in previous years, specific labor regulations of online and location-based platforms have failed to protect and promote workers’ rights, which have been the subject of centennial workers’ struggles. The central point is that, despite minimum standards based on international declarations and treaties built to preserve and promote human rights and socioeconomic inclusion, work conditions and relations have been profoundly impacted by the Internet economy and not necessarily in a positive way. The emergence of platform-based business models has contributed to the increase and even to the normalization of informality and deterioration of employment conditions. Increasing fragmentation of production processes, a direct consequence of technological advancement, has led to more unstable employment and income. Digital platforms created marketplaces allowing real-time hiring of labor to meet a large spectrum of social demands that go far beyond transportation services, but from IT programming to graphic design, copy-writing or routine clerical tasks, real estate services, to babysitting, among others. On these platforms, workers living across multiple time zones offer businesses the possibility of completing projects at any time, day or night. In practice, what we are facing is a global supply of labor mediated by proprietary algorithms of digital platforms. Additionally, digital labor platforms typically classify their workers as self-employed, thereby denying them labor protections and employer-provided social security. In most cases, the terms and conditions of working through the platforms are laid out unilaterally by the platforms, which state how and when crowdworkers will be paid, how their work will be evaluated, and what rights workers have when they need them. Moreover, as workers are classified as independent contractors, they are usually deprived of the right to collectively organize themselves. It is worth mentioning that, while the United Kingdom has recognized the contractual relationship between the location-based platforms and the workers, in most other scenarios this did not happen, at least so far, such as Brazil’s major regional labor court. The effects of digital labor platforms are more profound in Global South countries. Extreme poverty, high level of income inequality, the low qualification and high unemployment rates make the work conditions offered by digital platforms more attractive, thus becoming the “real future of work” for many people. Additionally, low qualification requirements and the remuneration presumably higher than in many other occupations at the same level are elements that contribute to a kind of consolidation and spread of outsourced companies - especially those organized in the form of apps and algorithms - that reach high levels of pervasiveness only possible in those countries. This also reduces the ability of these employees to negotiate better work conditions. Finally, it is key to place meaningful connectivity at the core of the digital labour debate, since workers have spent a considerable amount of their earnings on mobile data plans. The intensification and the global reach of the Internet Economy in labor market call for urgent actions. The contribution of the Global South perspective to understand informality in the digital age can and should be used to review the global debate on public policy frameworks that deal with the challenges related to the broad transformation of the very idea of work. While consolidated institutions and labor rights from the Global North shall subsidize the notion of decent work elsewhere. It is actually fundamental to shape the Internet economy based on those local realities to avoid increasing social and economic inequalities to avoid perpetuate historical dependencies in the name of development. There is an opportunity to do so.

SDGs

8. Decent Work and Economic Growth
8.5
10. Reduced Inequalities
Targets: The evolving concept of decent work proposed by the International Labor Organization back in 1999 has become at the core of the Internet Economy. Therefore, SDG 8, which aims to “promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all” (particularly the target 8.5), will be the driver of the session. Since the session is mainly focused on a multi-level governance and on social and economic inclusion regulatory and policy frameworks, the SDG 10, that aims to "reduce inequality within and among countries" will also be covered.

Description:

The emergence of platform-based business models has contributed to the increase of informality and the deterioration of employment conditions. The fragmentation of production processes, a direct consequence of technological advancement, has led to more unstable employment and income. Taking that into consideration, the International Labor Organization (ILO) has developed frameworks and partnered with local and international organizations to contribute with policymaking in order to ensure decent digital work. However, there are mismatches between international and local policies, in terms of both digital and labor regulations, that must be identified and addressed. The workshop aims at discussing digital policy alternatives to improve the digital platforms’ role in providing productive employment, rights, safety and non-exploitative work. To do so, the workshop will address the following issues: (a) present the overall impact of the Internet Economy to labor conditions with an emphasis on the Global South; (b) assess the ILO’s framework to cope with the challenges of digital platforms labor and how it has been used by different regions and stakeholders; and (c) discuss possible new policy perspectives to address the challenges of a changing social scenario in the labor field.

Expected Outcomes

Outcomes - We expect to have: 1 – Explored the limits of the ILO's framework on increasing investment in decent and sustainable work for the digital age; 2 – Organized a set of possible new policy perspectives to address potential mismatch between local digital labor policies and international frameworks, also considering connectivity issues. Outputs – We expect to have: 1. Produced a comparative assessment of new policy perspectives vis-a-vis ILO’s current frameworks and local experiences; 2. Provided a list of emerging specific initiatives to ensure decent work in digital platforms such as: a) self-regulatory initiatives (eg.: Fairwork Foundation Index); b) platform cooperatives initiatives; c) the role of digital workers organization facilitated by information and communication technologies.

The Workshop will start with a 15 minutes presentation on the overall impact of the Internet Economy on work in the Global South, calling attention to the potential gaps of how international frameworks are being applied at the national level and how local initiatives may contribute to enhance global policies. We expect to set a common ground to the debate, thus contributing to bring more participants to the discussion. In the sequence, we will have a 30 minutes slot when invited participants from different regions and sectors will share most recent updates in terms of labor regulation, bottom-up initiatives and their collaboration with the International Labor Organization. Each of them will speak for about 5 minutes.

After this initial moment, we will open a 30 minutes round of discussion, inviting participants to answer the following question: how international frameworks (specially ILO’s framework) can be improved taking into consideration local experiences?

We will have a final round of 15 minutes to wrap up the key similarities and differences from those contexts and draft key policy orientations to contribute in the following year to harmonize digital labor development at the international level and therefore strengthen local digital labor policies.

Online Participation

Usage of IGF Official Tool. Additional Tools proposed: The online moderator will use platforms to elaborate mental maps, such as Miro and XMind. It will be used to compile the key points highlighted by the local experiences. It will be used in the final 15 minutes of the debate to illustrate the digital and labour policies status at the local level and their relations to international frameworks.

Key Takeaways (* deadline 2 hours after session)

Platform and digital work is a growing phenomenon and it is important to be discussed within Internet Governance fora. It raises the dependence on digital platforms and their mechanisms for datafication, algorithmific management, and surveilance. There are some design mechanisms that must be widely discussed and measures taken. For istance, there is no channel to talk with a human being to discuss what could be done.

Internet and Labour agenda shall bond themsleves through the promotion of algorithmic transparency and the transversal consideration of the labour dimension within digital policy and regulation (e.g. data regulation, artificial intelligence regulation and automated decision-making, etc).

Call to Action (* deadline 2 hours after session)

Based on the principles of open and free Internet and the fact the Gig Economy concept has an eurocentric approach, there is a need to promote local alternative platforms, such as worker-owned platforms shaped in partnership with platform workers in the Global South. Elaborate and aggregate evidences on the intersection of emerging concerns regarding the Interent-mediated labour to be submitted and discussed within the ILO's instances.

It is important to promote research and policy analysis on several issues, such as: i. the political and ethical consequences of labling workers as invisibles are being conducted in India; ii. the connection between platform labor, disinformation and political communication strugle (e.g. people working for content moderation, click farms and so on); and the mismatch between high-skilled educated IT workers and the actual labor maket.

Session Report (* deadline Monday 20 December) - click on the ? symbol for instructions

This workshop was organized by the Brazilian Internet Steering Committee - CGI.br and had the focus on how digital labor around the world are aligned with international frameworks for decent work. The session was moderated by Prof. Rafael Evangelista, and had the following participants:

  • Angeliki Moraiti, Intergovernmental Organization, International Labor Organization, Eastern European Regional Group

  • Rafael Grohman, Technical Community, DigiLabour/UNISINOS, Latin American and Caribbean Group

  • Uma Rani,Intergovernmental Organization,  International Labor Organization, Asia-Pacific Group

The workshop also would count with the following participants who unfortunately had unforeseen events and could not attend. They were:

  • Yaseen Aslam, Civil Society, United Kingdom Uber Driver’s Union, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

  • Thomas Anning Dorson, Technical Community, Fairwork Foundation, African Group

The session started with a brief explanation of the problem to be addressed in the debates. The moderator, explained the emergence of platform-based business models and how it has contributed to the increase and even to the normalization of informality and deterioration of employment conditions. As said, the increasing fragmentation of production processes, a direct consequence of technological advancement, has led to more unstable employment and income. Digital platforms created marketplaces allowing real-time hiring of labor to meet a large spectrum of social demands that go far beyond transportation services. On these platforms, workers living across multiple time zones offer businesses the possibility of completing projects at any time, day or night. In practice, what we are facing is a global labor supply chain mediated by proprietary algorithms of digital platforms. Additionally, digital labor platforms typically classify their workers as self-employed, thereby denying them labor protections and employer-provided social security. In most cases, the terms and  conditions of working through the platforms are laid out unilaterally by the platforms, which state how and when crowd-workers will be paid, how their work will be evaluated, and what rights workers have when they need them.  The International Labor Organization (ILO) has developed frameworks and partnered with local and international organizations to contribute with policy-making in order to ensure decent digital work. However, there are mismatches between international and local policies, in terms of both digital and labor regulations, that must be identified and addressed.

Panelists agreed with the analysis adding that the increase of cloud infrastructure  and the interest of venture capitalists investing in it can lead to monopolization of the market all around the world. Also, they are largely dominated in USA, Europe and China while other Global South countries accounts for only 4% of those platforms ownership. These platforms are transforming the world of work and this is a new phenomenon for both labor and Internet policymakers. There are a whole set of new practices being introduced by these platforms that are quite different from what we traditionally have experienced. Against the promoted flexibility, when a worker like a taxi driver get an order they have  from15 to 40 seconds to decide if they want to take it or no. There is a punishment if one does not accept it and the worker may be deactivated, being unable to get new rides for a while and jeopardize her ratings. Moreover, these workers do not have direct access to a human being to discuss their problems. All the transactions are made by algorithms. These also mean an important change for the definition of performance.

The fact that the platforms establish the criteria to measure performance creates a duality based on the fact that they became a mediator in actually getting the job done. This means that they should be classified as employers. There is a huge debate around the world about that and in some countries they have already been classified as employers. This is a fundamental issue of misclassification. It has been mentioned that there are principles, frameworks and analysis produced by ILO that can be adopted in countries to help protecting workers and to foster decent working conditions social security, safety, employment and that apply to all kind of workers.

Panelists went further in pointing out the maleficent effects of work plataformization. The misuse of the terms is something that may conceive the real situation of workers in the Global South. For instance the term “Gig Economy”, which is an euro-centric expression, since “gig” has been historically the normal condition of the working class in the Global South where millions of people need to find any activity to earn a living. This is an attempt to generalize some specific conditions of a few groups in the Global North to the whole world. Also, researchers on the political and ethical realms have labeled workers as “invisible”. This is also an eurocentric perspective given that they can barely see this platform workers. The speaker said we may move beyond this idea of invisible work considering that these labor are not invisible for Global South countries.

Work platformization is creating a growing dependence on digital platforms and their mechanisms for datafication, algorithmic management, surveillance and so on. The diversity of platforms business models and mechanisms creates a constantly growing dependency for workers on digital platforms. The association of labor with some of this platforms like the clicking farms, and people working with content moderation all around the world create a connection between platform labor, political struggle and disinformation. Thus, we can see this dependency spreading over new areas of work, for instance in political communication. In this scenario, articulating regulation, public policy and the promotion of fair work becomes the central challenge. The Fairwork project is an initiative to face this challenge creating a set of principles and measurement mechanisms to foster decent work more suitable for platform capitalism (stimulating the understanding of fair contract, health working conditions provided by platforms and fair management which is related to the ability of workers to engage in due process to decisions that affect themselves).

Then the speakers talked about the gaps emphasizing that there is a dispute over fair work principles. Platforms are working with think tanks to produce their own charters of principles and using it to promote their agenda among parliaments. In this sense, ILO should have a role in acting in this disputes. Another gap is the capacity of the working class to organize and produce their own technology to strength their capacity to meet their goals.

Aiming at exploring and exposing the diversity of policies in this field, the following intervention touched upon the issues of regulations that are crucial in ensuring decent work in platform work. The speaker highlighted some of these forms of regulatory intervention.

One is the need to universalize certain standards and principles aforementioned to promote inclusive regulation. The Indian case of adopting a code for social security that applies to all workers in 2020 was given as an example. Another specific example from Australia and New Zealand policy and regulatory sphere, where they are shifting from calling “employer and employee” to “person conducting a business” and a “worker” instead.

Another is the importance to adopt measures specific to platform workers, this can  happen either through state regulation or judicial decision. As provided examples, in France, the French Labour Court allows self employed workers to engage in collective workers and also invite platforms to  engage in methods that may allow workers to obtain decent prices for their services. In addition, In São Paulo, Brazil, a labor tribunal recognized that delivery workers had their health risks reduced through health and safety regulations, recognizing the platform liability in this area. In spite of that, the main limitation of this specific measures is that for instance they fail to address broader trends  such as misclassification and the structural issue of informality.

Additionally, other possibility is to reclassify platform workers as employees, embedding them into previous labor and social protection regulations. In Spain there was a Law as well as several courts all around the world increasingly reclassifying workers by adapting the constitutive employment relationships. Among some elements to characterize the employment relationship (direction and control) are  the platforms’ GPS tracking of workers, and their determination of crucial aspects such as setting the price, matching the users, deactivating them . All of this are indicative of a lack of true entrepreneurial activity hence are indicative of an employment relationship. It was highlighted that judicial decisions may conflict with each other and promote regulatory uncertainty, nonetheless they are gradually leading to more inclusive definitions of workers and this will be crucial to ensure decent work to emerging forms of work.

Furthermore, the speaker pointed out that social partners and platform companies are also taking action to ensure decent work. In Germany, trade unions have established crowd-sourcing initiatives to support workers conditions and developed redress of grievances channels to resolve disputes between workers and platforms.

With regards to data protection law, it was emphasized the relevance of it to platform workers due to two main reasons: the fact that data is the core of platform’s business models; and that the law applies to workers regardless of their employment status. Some individual rights mentioned  are usually present in data protection regulations such as data access, data portability and data leisure. However, the most important one is that platform workers shall not be subject to automated decision-making, considering this also as a key for platforms operations (e.g. for de-activating users, setting prices, etc.). A way to move forward is to promote the right to obtain information and principle of explainability to understand the logic of an automated system. For instance, in Brazilian Data Protection Law there is the right to review automated decisions.

Another important aspect brought relates to collective data rights. What happens in platforms is that we shall guarantee  ownership of data for the workers.  As a concrete outcome of that is the ability of workers to leverage the intelligence of their own data to promote the quality of their own work. This requires specific data governance frameworks. As an example of regulatory recommendations, in India a regulatory committee  has proposed a collective ownership of community data with measures of  mandatory data sharing.

This talk also pointed out that laws to regulate AI application are very important since platforms use automated algorithms. It was argued that laws that directly regulate technology fairness and transparency may have an important role. For instance, European Commission’s regulatory proposal from the beginning of 2021 determines certain requirements to AI systems poses a high risk for the employment context. There is a need do advance in human oversight, reporting obligations, among other aspects.