Mounika Neerukonda, Amruta Mahuli and Janaki Srinivasan present papers at the 50th Annual Conference on South Asia at the University of Wisconsin, Madison

Conference Dates: October 19-22, 2022

Panel Date: Oct 21, 2022

Panel title: The Platform Economy and Its Contradictions in South Asia
Organizer: Janaki Srinivasan

Panel Abstract: The past decade in South Asia has witnessed rapid growth in the scale and scope of digital platforms mediating between service providers of various types and customers– they have spread across the region, and in various domains such as e-commerce, hospitality and ride-hailing. Critical to the growth of the platform economy on one hand has been the falling costs of technologies (platforms and broadband mobile connectivity), availability of venture capital, limited employment opportunities and a murky legal environment about employment status. These conditions have allowed platforms to create a business model where an estimated 5 million last-mile delivery workers in India, for instance, are euphemistically termed “entrepreneurs” and denied various employment benefits ranging from minimum wage to social security. The platforms justify the model by arguing that they have created an efficient marketplace which generates jobs in a country where jobs are scarce. They also warn against any regulation that might kill a nascent industry. Others argue that the platform economy is the step in the right direction towards formalising work status. This panel will critique such arguments, contrasting them with the conditions of platform workers on the ground in India and Bangladesh. The papers in the panel will draw on desk research and on interviews conducted with platform workers in India in 2020 and 2021 by the Fairwork India team and in Bangladesh in 2021 by the Fairwork Bangladesh team. The papers will examine different aspects of the conditions of platform workers in these geographies, including what makes them distinctive, the ambiguous legal status of their work relationship, their encounters with varied intermediaries in the course of their work, and nascent efforts at collective action.

The papers in the panel included

  • Distinctiveness of Platform economies in non-western societies: Bangladesh case study by Murali Shanmugavelan and Ananya Raihan
  • Platform work as disguised employment by Amruta Mahuli
  • “No one knows Kannada there”: The mediated nature of “direct” platform services by Janaki Srinivasan
  • Voices of Dissent: A typology of collective action undertaken by platform workers in India by Mounika Neerukonda

CITAPP at IIIT Bangalore is an interdisciplinary think-tank set-up to focus on the policy challenges and the organizational demands made by technological innovation. Of particular interest to the Centre is how technological advances, along with institutional changes that harness the legitimacy and the powers of bureaucracies and market, address the needs of underserved communities.