While the whole world shops, who cares about those who deliver?
November is a global shopping carnival. The “Double 11” Shopping Festival in China is followed by the “Black Friday” shopping week towards the end of November. Despite the thrills and joys of shoppers and merchants, the issues of exploitation of delivery people are often overlooked. We are facing a new wave of labour rights movement of delivery people and couriers. In Hong Kong, a new awareness has been raised raised after 300 staff went on a strike against the new policy of Deliveroo. While freelancing in goods and food delivery is getting prevalent, there is an undertone of labour exploitation in the name of freedom and flexibility. Under an ambivalent Employer-employee relationship, courier workers all over the world are under risks like unstable income and lack of protection.
Collective labour actions surface in major towns, while Platform Sales record a new high on “Double 11”
The major online shopping platforms in China are having ever increasing turnovers during the "Double 11" each year. Although the global economy suffered greatly from Covid-19 this year, online shopping sales were unaffected and were even going up in the after the peak of the pandemic "revenge shopping" atmosphere. Tmall and JD.com set records on Double 11 this year, with sales of 498.2 and 271.5 billion yuan respectively. These gigantic profits are a literal result of blood and sweat of the couriers. Each courier needs to handle more than 200 packages on just the day of November 11, yet the delivery fee for each order is only about 1 yuan.
The lack of rights protection of Chinese couriers owes much to the structural problems within the courier industry. In order to gain the best market share, courier companies are all aiming to lure consumers at lowest prices possible. Most companies cut costs by exploiting couriers, who became the final victims of the price wars. In addition, many couriers are hired in the form of short contracts and outsourcing. They do not have a basic salary, but rather they earn by the number of goods they deliver, piece by piece. Many of them did not sign a formal contract with the employer, which makes them vulnerable to wage arrears. As a result, in recent years, more and more couriers have taken to the streets to defend their rights. The couriers on strike around Double 11 mainly came from Zhongtong, JD.com, and Best. Some outlets apparently went out of service. Many consumers reported delivery delays.
Make Amazon Pay: Joint action by 50 organisations, labour strikes in 15 countries
Like China’s online shopping platforms, Amazon’s sales have increased during the pandemic: its market value has reached one trillion US dollars, and its CEO Jeff Bezos has also become the world’s richest man with 200 billion US dollars based on his documented assets. However, Amazon employees work with insufficient job security. According to some statistics, a total of 19,816 Amazon frontline employees have contracted Covid-19. It is difficult to determine whether the case was infected during work. It is likely that the lack of revention equipment for employees increased the risk of infection, while Amazon’s turnover reached new highs. Therefore, 50 environmental protection and human rights organisations formed a coalition and launched the "Make Amazon Pay'' action and on Black Friday, November 27 to put forward a series of demands. There were three main demands for labour: Protect employees with sufficient rest time and leave in the workplace; Improve job security and respect employees’ union rights. Although Amazon once issued bonuses to employees, the initiators of MakeAmazonPay believe that the pandemic has exposed Amazon's problem of putting its interests above employees' rights and the environment. As a multinational company, Amazon should further contribute to society. They called on Amazon employees on strike to express their demands and 15 countries responded. In Germany where Amazon has the second highest sales, 500 workers launched a three-day strike.
Although the global economy is hard hit by the covid-19 pandemic, the popularity of online shopping led to the growth of parcel-delivery industry. However, the "Double 11" courier strike wave and the "Black Friday" anti-Amazon movement have revealed that couriers everywhere are also facing the problems of precarity, unstable income, and unprotected rights. Workers must unite and unite forces from all over the world in order to fight against the exploitation and unfair treatment in the workplace.
Producers and consumers are strongly tied. On one hand, globalization certainly brings certain convenience to consumers. On the other hand, it is the monopolistic expansion of multinational companies at the cost of labour rights and our environment. In Hong Kong, food delivery accidents are getting common in recent years. There were 10 food delivery accidents in Hong Kong just in 2020. Among them, the fatal accident of the Foodpanda motorcycle delivery staff in Shui Chuen O Estate has caused uproar in the city. When consumers enjoy the convenience of this platform economy, we can also further reflect on the issues behind and not to turn a blind eye to the situation of couriers and delivery staff. As promoted by NGO groups in recent years, we can also be a more conscientious consumer and opt to support companies that fulfill its social responsibilities.
(Photo: Getty Images)