Platform Cooperativism: A Pathway to a Fairer Platform Economy

Platform Cooperativism: A Pathway to a Fairer Platform Economy

A group of delivery motorcycle riders gather at the Ministry of Labour on Aug 30, 2023, to demand better legal protections and a fund to be set up as compensation for any injury suffered during their work. The riders say they are exposed to constant danger during their delivery rounds. (Photo: Varuth Hirunyatheb)
A group of delivery motorcycle riders gather at the Ministry of Labour on Aug 30, 2023, to demand better legal protections and a fund to be set up as compensation for any injury suffered during their work. The riders say they are exposed to constant danger during their delivery rounds. (Photo: Varuth Hirunyatheb)

Platform economy, which rapidly expands and covers various services from ride-hailing and food delivery to hotel booking and even dating, are causing concerns over precariousness, safety, isolation and insecurity of platform workers worldwide, including Thailand.

Trebor Scholz, researcher and the founding director of the Institute for the Cooperative Digital Economy (ICDE) and the Platform Cooperativism Consortium (PCC), at The New School, in New York City, said under the outdated Thai labour protection laws, workers are classified as independent contractors, which makes also them lack social protection.

He said it is necessary to introduce the concept of “platform cooperatives” - a set of models based on shared ownership and democratic governance that starkly contrasts with traditional platform economies, where power, voice, and profits are concentrated among a few.

To explore this deeper, Professor Scholz will come to Thailand to discuss "Platform Cooperativism: A Path Toward a Fairer Digital Economy". He will be joined by Ms Heejin Ahn from the International Labour Organization (ILO) and several practitioners from Thailand.

The event, organised by the research group in Innovation for Social Solidarity and Inclusive Economy in Asia (ISSIE) at the Institute of Asian Studies, Chulalongkorn University in collaboration with the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) Thailand office, will take place on Nov 27 from 1pm to 4pm at the Grande Centre Point Surawong in Bangkok.

Prof Scholz wrote the books titled "Own This! How Platform Cooperatives Help Workers Build a Democratic Internet", aiming to promote a fairer digital economy through research, education, and community building.

The book provides a comprehensive guide to understanding the platform economy's challenges and the transformative potential of cooperative principles.

In this account, Prof Scholz suggests how cooperative principles, applied to both traditional and online platforms, support those facing unemployment by advocating for workplace democracy and striving for a more democratic internet - a benefit for not just workers but everyone who relies on online platforms.

Prof Scholz elaborates on cooperative principles: shared ownership, democratic decision-making, and equitable profit distribution through real examples, such as the Drivers Cooperative in New York City, which onboard 9,000 drivers and successfully competes in the ride-hailing market while ensuring fair wages and conditions for its drivers.

Or Up & Go, the platform for professional home cleaners that guarantees pay at more than twice what they could expect through other similar platforms in New York City.

The book goes beyond theoretical discussions, offering practical solutions for implementing platform cooperatives. He addresses critical questions about scalability and sustainability in a different way, in which he proposes that platform cooperatives, instead of scaling up, should rather scale out and scale deep.

Since 2014, when Prof Scholz introduced the concept, platform cooperatives have gained momentum, now involving an estimated 2 million people and tens of thousands of workers across 60 countries, with 550 known projects.

Political parties, from the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn to the German Social Democrats and the Brazilian government under Lula da Silva to the government in Kerala, India, have adopted the model.

Intergovernmental bodies such as the European Union (EU), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and the ILO also support the idea, advocating for platform cooperatives as an alternative for a fairer digital economy.


Matthana Rodyim (Phd) : A member of the Social Solidarity Economy Studies Center, writer of this article.

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