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Towards a Fairer Platform Economy: Introducing the Fairwork Foundation
fairwork.jpg

This month, I started work on a new project together with my new colleague Jamie Woodcock: The Fairwork Foundation. With generous funding from GIZ, we will get to spend the next year and a half figuring out how to certify online labour platforms - using leverage from workers, consumers, and platforms to improve the welfare and job quality of digital workers.

Today we also have a new article about the project out (in a new issue of Alternate Routes focused on 'Social Inequality and the Spectre of Social Justice'). The article explains some of our initial strategies for the project. The specifics will undoubtedly evolve, but you can get a sense of our direction of travel.

Graham, M. and Woodcock, J. 2018. Towards a Fairer Platform Economy: Introducing the Fairwork Foundation. Alternate Routes. 29. 242-253.

Summary

This proposal envisions a way of holding platforms accountable through a programme of research focused on fair work. It operates under a governing belief that core transparent production networks can lead to better working conditions for digital workers around the world. The establishment of the Foundation and a certification scheme will provide demonstrable impact for digital workers, customers, and platforms. For digital workers, it addresses the twofold structural weakness that they face: first, the lack of ability to collectively bargain due to the fragmentation of the work process; and second, the asymmetry of information between workers and platforms. The certification process provides an important means to address these two challenges, along with building and developing connections between workers and institutions like trade unions and regulatory bodies. New kinds of work require innovations in organising techniques and regulations, and the Fairwork Foundation provides an important starting point for developing these in practice. 

As millions of people turn to platform work for their livelihoods, it is no longer good enough to imagine that there is nothing beyond the screen. Our clicks tie us to the lives and livelihoods of platform workers, as much as buying clothes tie us to the lives of sweatshop workers. And with that realisation of our interwoven digital positionalities comes the power to bring into being a fairer world of work.

Labour oversupply in the platform economy

When I give talks about issues that arise in the context of a global market for digital work, one of the most important things that comes up is the oversupply of labour power. I often get asked to share the table above, and so figured it would be useful to post here. The table illustrates labour oversupply on one of the world's largest platforms.
In the chart you can see that there are a huge number of people who come to these platforms looking for work, but never end up finding any. Something that our current fieldwork in the Geonet project strongly corroborates. This huge oversupply diminishes the ability of workers to secure better wages or working conditions.


If you want to cite the source of the table, you can find it here:

Graham, M., Lehdonvirta, V., Wood, A., Barnard, H., Hjorth, I., and Simon, D. P. 2017. The Risks and Rewards of Online Gig Work At the Global Margins. Oxford: Oxford Internet Institute. 

And if you want to read more about the implications of this global oversupply of labour power, we write about it in the following pieces:

Graham, M. and Anwar, M.A. 2018. Digital Labour In: Digital Geographies Ash, J., Kitchin, R. and Leszczynski, A. (eds.). Sage. London.

Graham, M., Hjorth, I., Lehdonvirta, V. 2017. Digital labour and development: impacts of global digital labour platforms and the gig economy on worker livelihoods. Transfer: European Review of Labour and Research. 23 (2) 135-162.

Digital Control in Value Chains: Challenges of Connectivity for East African Firms

 

I'm happy to report on a new co-authored paper that I have out. The piece asks what difference changing connectivity has made for East African firms. The piece emerges from a multi-year study on Development and Broadband Internet Access in East Africa that evolved into my current 'Geonet' project.

Foster, C., Graham, M., Mann, L., Waema, T., and Friederici, N. 2017. Digital Control in Value Chains: Challenges of Connectivity for East African FirmsEconomic Geography. 94(1) 68-86.

Summary

In recent years, Internet connectivity has greatly improved across the African continent. This article examines the consequences that this shift has had for East African firms that are part of global value chains (GVCs). Prior work yielded contradictory expectations: firms might benefit from connectivity through increased efficiencies and improved access to markets, although they might also be further marginalized through increasing control of lead firms. Drawing on extensive qualitative research in Kenya and Rwanda, including 264 interviews, we examine 3 sectors (tea, tourism, and business process outsourcing) exploring overarching, cross-cutting themes. The findings support more pessimistic expectations: small African producers are only thinly digitally integrated in GVCs. Moreover, shifting modes of value chain governance, supported by lead firms and facilitated by digital information platforms and data standards are leading to new challenges for firms looking to digitally integrate. Nevertheless, we also find examples in these sectors of opportunities where small firms are able to cater to emerging niche customers, and local or regional markets. Overall, the study shows that improving connectivity does not inherently benefit African firms in GVCs without support for complementary capacity and competitive advantages.

Related work

Foster, C. and Graham, M. 2017. Reconsidering the Role of the Digital in Global Production Networks. Global Networks. 17(1) 68-88 DOI: 10.1111/glob.12142.

Friederici, N. Ojanperä, S., and Graham, M. 2017. The Impact of Connectivity in Africa: Grand Visions and the Mirage of Inclusive Digital Development. Electronic Journal of Information Systems in Developing Countries. 79(2) 1-20. 

Mann, L and Graham, M. 2016 The Domestic Turn: Business Process Outsourcing and the Growing Automation of Kenyan Organisations. Journal of Development Studies 52:4, 530-548, DOI: 10.1080/00220388.2015.1126251.

Graham, M., Mann, L., Friederici, N. and Waema, T. 2016. Growing the Kenyan Business Process Outsourcing SectorThe African Technopolitan. 5 93-95

Graham, M. 2015. Contradictory Connectivity: Spatial Imaginaries and Techno-Mediated Positionalities in Kenya's Outsourcing Sector. Environment and Planning A 47 867-883 (pre-publicaion version here).

Mann, L., Graham, M., and Friederici, N. 2015. The Internet and Business Process Outsourcing in East Africa. Oxford Internet Institute Report, Oxford, UK.

The Right to the City: New Ebook from Verso

'Who is the city for?' That is the question tackled in a new (free) publication by Verso Books. Joe Shaw and I have a chapter in there. The blurb from Verso and links are below:

"In 1968, the French Marxist philosopher Henri Lefebvre wrote “Le Droite a la Ville” (“The Right to the City”), which has become one of the most essential texts in radical geography and urban studies. It transformed the way we think about urban life and the right to make and remake our cities, and ourselves. Fifty years on, the question of who is the city is for, and why, is more urgent than ever.

In this special ebook report (free to download!), some of the most important voices in the current debate on the right to city are gathered to debate what Lefebvre originally intended and what it might mean today within the neoliberal urban world. How these ideas help us to understand the contemporary struggle in housing; how to protest gentrification; the privatisation of public spaces; and the demand for places of self expression, and the security of home. The collection also explores how these ideas can be used in other fields—such as digital space and the Internet of Things.

Contributors include David Adler, Neil Brenner, Bradley Garrett, Andrea Gibbons, Huw Lemmey, David Madden & Peter Marcuse, Andy Merrifield, Anna Minton, Don Mitchell, Rebecca Omonira-Oyekanmi, Nina Power, Dubravka Sekulić, Joe Shaw & Mark Graham, and Alex Vasudevan."

Related links:

Shaw, J and Graham, M. (eds). 2017. Our Digital Rights to the City. London: Meatspace Press.

Shaw, J. and Graham, M. 2017. An Informational Right to the City? Code, Content, Control, and the Urbanization of InformationAntipode. 49(4) 907-927.  10.1111/anti.12312

Graham, M. and Shaw, J. 2017. An 'Informational Right to the City'?New Internationalist. Feb 8, 2017

Shaw, J and Graham, M. (eds). 2017. Il nostro diritto digitale alla città. Rome: Openpolis.