ILO COOP/SSE 100 Symposium - Session 5: Platform Cooperatives

Simel Esim
The fifth session of the two-day symposium focused on platform cooperatives and was chaired by Simel Esim, the Manager of the Cooperatives Unit at the ILO. The Chair opened the session by defining platform cooperatives as member-owned businesses that use a website, mobile application, or protocol to connect to one another or to organize services. They use the cooperative model to apply it to more democratic ownership and control of digital platforms. She noted that platform cooperatives are being utilized by a range of workers and users. These include: existing cooperatives of informal economy workers adopting online applications to bring the goods and services of their members to users in a way where they have more control; and freelancers, artists, technology workers, and others in the gig economy use them and often get support from trade unions in their sectors when doing so.

Francesca Martinelli
The first paper of the session on “The Pegasus Company: An Innovative Form of Cooperation for Decent Work” was presented by Francesca Martinelli. She highlighted the differences between platform corporations and platform cooperatives. She noted that in platform cooperatives workers are better connected and have more bargaining power. She pointed out that the business model of platform cooperative puts people at its center and not technology. She presented the experience of Doc Servici, a platform cooperative of freelance artists in Italy. She concluded by saying that platform companies are often referred to as unicorns. Platform cooperatives may be more like Pegasus, she said, a constellation in the northern sky, named after the winged horse in Greek mythology. With their members platform cooperatives are like a constellation, and the two wings represent people and technology.

Sarah de Heusch
Stephane Veyer
The second paper titled “Shared enterprises: Cooperative innovation meets the challenges of the world of work” was presented by Sarah de Heusch and Stéphane Veyer. The speakers noted that shared enterprises can constitute a solid cooperative response to current and future challenges in the world of work. They suggested cooperation can play a role in relation to social protection, and in their approach to work especially for self-employed, but part-time and fixed-term workers who are among the most vulnerable. They noted that they can provide a concrete response to their isolation and precariousness by forming collective enterprises.

Anita Gurumurthy
The third speaker, Anita Gurumurthy, presented the paper she developed with her colleagues in IT for Change for the ILO on “Unlocking data value for platform labour: Insights from worker-led, SSE platform models”. She highlighted findings from the research on organizing strategies and alternative business models currently being deployed by platform workers across the world to reclaim their civil-political and economic rights in the platform economy. She noted that the research focused on the domains of on-demand work, platform-mediated matching of work performed within a specific geography, crowd-work, platform-mediated matching of work performed remotely across geographically dispersed locations, and e-commerce, digital trade in goods and services. She suggested that platform cooperativism needs to adopt a ‘regenerative appropriation’ strategy that deploys data-based intelligence for sustainable value creation and equitable value distribution.

Anita Gurumurthy presenting
She concluded that data collectivism can provide the golden mean between the solidarity economy ethos of the cooperativist movement and the techno-design possibilities of platforms. Data collectivism enables worker organizations to be more efficient, decentralise value and reengineer production and consumption in ecologically sensitive ways. As a viable real economy alternative to platform corporations, data collectivist approaches could also create linkages between worker/producer and consumer cooperatives.

Cynthia Srnec
The fourth presentation of the session by Cynthia Srnec was on “Platform cooperativism: a fair and green alternative in the sharing economy and an opportunity for workers”. Ms Srnec suggested that platforms offer a flexible but unsecure work environment. Attempts to regulate these companies, are faced with resistance. She provided a typology based on ownership and governance: Private ownership & close governance (capitalist platform); Public ownership & close or mixed governance open to the community (generated interest or open platform); Private - collective ownership and democratic governance open to members/community; and Community ownership and open governance to the contributing community (Cooperative-Platform by communities). She then provided three examples from France - worker cooperatives, social cooperatives and activity and employment cooperatives. She mentioned the “Plateformes en communs” network in Europe and highlighted what platform cooperatives can offer in times of crisis. She concluded with the need for state support in the regulating the work, economic activity and social protection around platform economy.

Francesca Martinelli presenting
In the question and answer session the speakers were asked about their thoughts on the EU proposal for a directive to better protect workers on digital platforms. Francesca Martinelli noted that this is a welcome proposal to regularize work and workers on platforms, especially as it relates to access to social protection and welfare regardless of the type and duration of the employment relationships for platform workers. There is a multiplicity of situations among non-standard workers and they cannot be called non-standard any longer.

Another question on how COVID-19 impacts development of platform cooperatives received a response from Stéphane Veyer who suggested that the model of shared enterprises has demonstrated its relevance and strength during the current global pandemic. In a number of countries, they have successfully advocated and facilitated continuation of unemployment schemes, perpetuating income through unemployment support. This was possible to the extent that these workers were employees of cooperatives.

Cynthia Srnec presenting
In response to a question on examples of North-South or South-South cooperation around platform cooperatives, the case of Coop Cycle that started in France and has connections in Europe and Spain but also in Argentina was provided by Cynthia Srnec. The first Argentine Federation of Technology, Innovation and Knowledge Worker Cooperatives (FACTTIC) interacts with cooperatives working in IT sector. They are supporting the establishment of the first trade union of delivery and transport workers who work through platforms under precarious contracts.

Anita Gurumurthy presenting
A question was posed to Anita Gurumurth on the difficulties platform cooperatives may face in reaching scale especially as it relates to accessing equity capital. She noted that the question of scale can never be resolved unless there is a comprehensive social change that puts breaks on hyper-consumption. She noted that there is a very strong role for policy in shaping social consciousness. The state can also regulate the big players: not only for platform workers’ rights or controlling monopolistic tendencies, but also on sharing data that originally belonged to workers to put that back into aggregated non-personal data sets, which are suitably anonymized.