Tulane Law Review
The on-demand economy has truly gone global. Consider online platform TaskRabbit, a U.S.-based site for odd jobs. A high number of TaskRabbit’s users were seeking help with the construction of furniture they purchased at IKEA, and skilled carpenters started using the platform to find customers. Corporate management at Swedish company IKEA noticed the trend, and as a result acquired TaskRabbit in 2017. As a result, a Swedish company now owns a platform labor service in the United States and Britain, with plans to expand the TaskRabbit platform to twenty-seven more countries where IKEA currently owns brick and mortar stores. Throughout its operation, however, TaskRabbit has claimed it only has a handful of employees, and the terms and conditions on its website list its workers as “independent contractors.”
Two other examples effectively illustrate the global nature of on-demand work. Digital platform Upwork, headquartered in Mountain View, California, hosts and parcels out assorted computer programming, graphic design, and data-entry tasks. Upwork posts tasks from requesters around the world, and likewise, the workers on the platform live around the world, most often working from their homes. A final example is U.K. company Chatterbox, which uses its platform to connect remote workers in Syrian refugee camps with users in many other countries who pay to learn Arabic. In the past, foreign companies have used platforms to engage Kenyan nationals living in refugee camps with tasks as diverse as computer programming and customer support calls.
On-demand platforms are changing and reshaping our conceptions of both the firm and work relationship in far-reaching and critical ways, allowing companies to hire workers and to seek customers across national boundaries. Meanwhile, as on-demand platforms have scaled their operations in the last decade, regulators around the world have struggled to keep pace with the challenges to labor regulation that platforms have presented. While some commentators believe existing forms of labor and employment regulations can stretch to cover on-demand work, others have called for new legal initiatives specifically crafted for online platforms. Confronted with low pay and problematic working conditions, gig workers around the world have turned to the courts, attempting to invoke the protections of traditional labor and employment law. Court cases were first seen in the United States, where many platforms had their origins. As the platforms have spread to many countries, similar types of litigation have followed in their wake. Currently, cases are being heard around the world on the question of whether gig workers are “employees” or “independent contractors.” These include ongoing litigation in the United Kingdom, Brazil, Spain, Belgium, Colombia, and Australia. So far, these decisions have applied different standards, and to date have been reaching conflicting conclusions.