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The Future of Work in the Global South
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A network that I am part of - the The Future of Work in Developing Countries initiative - has just put out a new publication titled 'The Future of Work in the Global South'.

You can download the full publication here. It also contains a piece by my colleagues and I on the potentials of the gig economy in developing countries.

Graham, M., Lehdonvirta, L., Wood., A., Barnard, H., and Hjorth, I. 2018. Could Online Gig Work Drive Development in Lower-income Countries? In Galperin, H., and Alarcon, A. The Future of Work in the Global South. Ottawa: IDRC. 8-11.

I include the introduction below:

More than a billion people are set to enter the job market in less than three years, mostly from low- and lower-middle-income countries. Online gig work—paid work managed via online platforms with no contract for long-term employment—has been seen by economic development experts as a relatively welcome phenomenon, allowing these workers to compete frictionlessly in a global marketplace. Policymakers hope regions like Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia can capitalize on this digitally mediated work opportunity, thereby addressing a global mismatch in supply and demand of (online) labor. In the face of low wages in emerging economies and youth-to-adult unemployment rates hitting historic peaks, Internet-based marketplaces might permit a “virtual migration” offering economic benefits akin to physical migration, lifting people out of poverty, raising labor force participation, and improving productivity.

But are these hopes really justified? Drawing on 152 interviews, a survey of 456 workers, and transaction data from one of the world’s largest online gig work platforms, we discuss some of the risks and rewards of this “new world of work”. There will be benefits like increased pay and autonomy for many, but concerns include downward pressure on pay generally, long hours, discrimination, lack of social contact for some, and the disembedding of gig-platforms from the norms and laws that normally regulate labor intermediaries. By drawing attention to these issues, we hope to help platform operators improve their positive impact, help workers take
action to improve their situations, and prompt policy makers to revisit regulation as it applies to workers, clients, and platforms.

Related work

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

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

Graham, M and Shaw, J. (eds). 2017. Towards a Fairer Gig Economy. London: Meatspace Press.

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.

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.