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Choir room

Consumer power and attitudes in the platform-economy: Food delivery with a side of decent working conditions

Consumer power and attitudes in the platform-economy: Food delivery with a side of decent working conditions

 
Dr Caleb Goods (UWA), Dr Alex Veen (USyd), Dr Brett Smit (UWA) & Dr Tom Barratt (ECU)
 
Platform-capital is bourgeoning in the twenty-first century and is having profound implications for business models and work organisation across the global economy (Prassl, 2017; Srnicek, 2017). Intermediary digital-platform organisations are reshaping the ways in which an array of digital cloud-based and more traditional services are provided, procured and consumed (Howcroft and Bergvall-Kåreborn, 2018).
The app-based platform-economy, where app-intermediated work has replaced more traditional services, is changing social relations between workers, organisations and consumers; leading some scholars to enunciate it as a novel form of capitalism (Rahman and Thelen, 2019) or indeed post-capitalism (Peticca-Harris et al., 2018). Within this paradigm, scholars have how consumers play a dynamic, dual role in the consumption of platform-mediated services. On the one hand acting as traditional consumers, while on the other functioning as delegated managers for platforms; appraising worker performance and feeding into algorithmic management and control systems. They provide critical input through the rating systems that frequently underpin the platforms’ labour processes and ability to elicit labour power (Aloisi, 2016; Rosenblat, 2018; Veen et al., 2019; Wood et al., 2018).
Platform-capital has further sought to develop alliances with consumers to legitimise its preferred business model, based on arm’s-length relations with labour across variegated services (Rosenblat, 2018). By focussing on enhanced consumer experience, while providing heavily subsidized services in the initial stages of market-entry (McArdle, 2019), platforms seek to create what can be constituted as associational power (Wright, 2000). Platforms can, for instance, seek to leverage consumer influence to realise more favourable outcomes with regulators and other stakeholders; exemplified by the consumer campaigns initiated by Uber against New York City’s proposal to cap the number of ride-share drivers in the city (Collier et al., 2018) or its vehement opposition against compensation levies for the taxi industry in Australia (Galloway, 2017). Leading Rahman and Thelen (2019:181) to conclude that ‘consumers are enlisted – either explicitly or, more often, implicitly – in political alliance against labor’. At the same time, the #deleteuber campaign in the United States (Cresci, 2017) underscores that consumers are not necessarily monolithic in their ‘alliance’ with platform-capital. Illustrating how citizen-consumers (Kessler and Bach, 2011) can possibly influence and shape standards across the platform-economy.
While the potential influence of consumers is increasingly recognised in the growing app-based platform-literature (Collier et al., 2018; Rahman and Thelen, 2019; Rosenblat, 2018), to date the weight of scholarly attention has been concentrated on working conditions and regulatory responses around ride-sharing (De Stefano, 2016; Prassl and Risak, 2016) and food-delivery services (c.f. Goods et al., 2017; Huws et al., 2017). Adopting a multi-disciplinary mixed-methods approach, bridging the fields of employment relations and business ethics, this exploratory consumer attitude study assesses the awareness, attitude, and understanding of consumers in relation to app-based food-delivery services, using traditional survey instruments and choice-modelling to explore their perceptions on worker entitlements. Drawing upon original empirical evidence from a web-based panel survey of 840 Australian consumers, the study helps to unpack the potential role that consumer can play in the platform-economy.
The preliminary findings highlight how Australian consumers have relatively low levels of understanding and awareness of worker entitlements, suggesting that those stakeholders who wish to elicit consumer power face major barriers to alliance building for change. Moreover, while generally sympathetic to decent work conditions, the results suggest a cognitive dissonance between consumer conduct, consumption patterns and attitudes towards worker entitlements.
 

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