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Enabling Exploitation: Law in the Gig Economy


This article describes the almost total failure of legal systems to criminalize, regulate or restrict the crimes of capitalism and its institutions in the “uber/gig” economy. It examines how the technologically-enabled theft of time, space and wages from employees has been normalized and even celebrated. These unregulated excesses have exacerbated political, cultural and economic inequality and threatened or destroyed quality of life for millions. To understand why and how these harmful practices have attracted so little regulatory or criminal attention, the article examines how neoliberal capitalism, in its constant search for new ways to outsource costs and maximize profits, intersects with the democratic state and its professed obligation to prevent capital from “going too far” at the expense of citizens of that state.

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  1. 1.

    Because there is no consensus on what gig economy workers will be called, the terms “freelancers” and “contract workers” are used interchangeably in this article.

  2. 2.

    Twenty-nine states have passed legislation increasing the minimum wage in their states; the remainder have not. Minimum wages in states such as Georgia and Wyoming are as low as at $5.15 an hour—in these states only those working on federally funded projects must receive $7.25. And various categories of workers are excluded from both state and federal minimum wage laws (National Conference of State Legislatures 2018) at

  3. 3.

    This is not to deny that some freelance workers prefer the gig economy to a traditional workplace (assuming they are given a choice). Parents with young children may like the flexibility it gives them—provided they have a partner with a well-paid job or family resources to fall back on. Those with skills in high demand and strong networks in their field may do well. Determining motivation is a minefield: it is impossible to know whether people are making the best of a bad bargain, bowing to necessity or actually prefer freelance or temporary work. And preferences change over peoples’ life stages. People with mortgages, children and debt (the majority of us) need stable “decent” incomes.

  4. 4.

    These changes are under threat, because on June 7, 2018 Ontario elected a right-wing Conservative government under Doug Ford (the brother of the infamous Rob Ford, Mayor of Toronto from 2010–2014). Ford is no friend of progressive initiatives (or of the previous Liberal government that enacted them).

  5. 5.

    While the invention of new technologies is both serendipitous and unpredictable, the uses to which they are put, their reception and popularization, is linked to the perceived “needs” of capitalist elites. These are the knowledge claims, the technological inventions that “have legs” (Snider 2000).

  6. 6.

    Or an autocracy or right-wing dictatorship. The trends around the world do not look hopeful for socialists and democrats, with large swaths of Europe, the former satellite countries of the USSR and the USA turning away from both.


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Correspondence to Laureen Snider.

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Snider, L. Enabling Exploitation: Law in the Gig Economy. Crit Crim 26, 563–577 (2018).

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