Skip to main content

Enabling Exploitation: Law in the Gig Economy

Abstract

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.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Notes

  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 http://www.ncsl.org/research/labor-and-employment/state-minimum-wage-chart.aspx#Table.

  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.

References

  1. Ajunwa, I., Crawford, K., & Schultz, J. (2017). Limitless worker surveillance. California Law Review, 105(3), 103–145.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Bittle, S. (2012). Still dying for a living: Corporate criminal liability after the Westray mine disaster. Vancouver: UBC Press.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Bittle, S., & Stinson, L. (2018). Corporate killing law reform: A spatio-temporal fix to a crisis of capitalism? Capital & Class. https://doi.org/10.1177/0309816818780644.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Carson, W. (1980). The institutionalization of ambiguity: Early British factory acts. In G. Geis & E. Stotland (Eds.), White-collar crime: Theory and research. Beverley Hills, CA: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Castree, N. (2009). The spatio-temporality of capitalism. Time and Society, 18(1), 26–61.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Centens, M., & Cohen, J. (2010). Global capitalism: A sociological perspective. Malden: Polity Press.

    Google Scholar 

  7. DePeuter, G., Oakley, K., & Cohen, N. (2018). How youth activism is kicking unpaid internships to the curb. The conversation Canada. https://theconversation.com/how-youth-activism-is-kicking-unpaid-internships-to-the-curb-95994?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Latest%20from%20The%20Conversation%20Canada%20for%20June%206%202018&utm_content=Latest%20from%20The%20Conversation%20Canada%20for%20June%206%202018+CID_77c63b3f2d31c97eed8dd5ec8c9dd5e1&utm_source=campaign_monitor_ca&utm_term=How%20youth%20activism%20is%20kicking%20unpaid%20internships%20to%20the%20curb. Accessed May 15, 2018.

  8. Edelman Intelligence. (2017). Edelman trust barometer: Annual global survey. https://www.edelman.com/executive-summary.

  9. Elsby, M., Hobijn, B., & Sahin, A. (2013). Unemployment dynamics in the OECD. Review of Economic Statistics, 95(2), 530–548.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Fallon, N. (2017). The growth of the gig economy: A look at American freelancers. Business news daily, November 10. www.businessnewsdaily.com/10359-gig-economy-trends.html.

  11. Faraday, F. (2012). Made in Canada: How law constructs migrant workers’ insecurity. Toronto: Metcalfe Foundation.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Faraday, F. (2017). Demanding a fair share: Protecting workers’ rights in the on-demand service economy. Ottawa: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Fitz, M. (2014). In Germany, Amazon workers strike (again). The German View, Sept. 23. https://www.zdnet.com/article/in-germany-amazon-workers-strike-again/. Accessed April 20, 2018.

  14. Friedrichs, D. (2010). Trusted criminals: White collar crime in contemporary society. Belmont, CA: Tompson.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Fudge, J. (2017). The future of the standard employment relationship: Labour law, new institutional economies and old power resource theory. Journal of Industrial Relations. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022185617693877.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Funnell, A. (2017). With Uber, Deliveroo and the gig economy on the rise, must labour unions die? Future tense, May 30. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-05-31/must-employee-status-die-with-rise-of-deliveroo-uber-gig-economy/8573530/. Accessed April 2, 2018.

  17. Glasbeek, H. (2017). Class privilege: How law shelters shareholders and coddles capitalism. Toronto: Between the Lines.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Gramsci, A. (1971). Selections from the prison notebooks. New York: International Publishers.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Harvey, D. (1990). Between time and space: Reflections on the geographical imagination. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 80(3), 418–434.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Harvey, D. (2014). Seventeen contradictions and the end of capitalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Hill, S. (2015). Raw deal: How the “Uber economy” and runaway capitalism are screwing American workers. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Katz, A., & Krueger, A. (2016). The rise and nature of alternative work arrangements in the US, 1995–2015. Washington, DC: National Bureau of Economic Research.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Levinthal, D. (2015). Spreading the free market gospel. The Atlantic, October 30. https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/10/spreading-the-free-market-gospel/413239/. Accessed May 1, 2018.

  24. Mason, P. (2015). The end of capitalism has begun. The Guardian, July 17. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jul/17/postcapitalism-end-of-capitalism-begun). Accessed May 15, 2018.

  25. Mayer, J. (2016). Dark money: The hidden history of the billionaires behind the rise of the radical right. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

    Google Scholar 

  26. McKinsey Global Institute. (2016a). Independent work: Choice, necessity, and the gig economy, October. http://nation1099.com/gig-economy-data-freelancer-study/#history. Accessed April 15, 2018.

  27. McKinsey Global Institute. (2016b). Independent work: Choice, necessity, and the gig economy, October. https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/employment-and-growth/independent-work-choice-necessity-and-the-gig-economy. Accessed April 7, 2018.

  28. Mosco, V. (2017). Becoming digital: Toward a post-internet society. Bingley: Emerald Publishing Ltd.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  29. Moyer-Lee, J. (2017). At last, paid holiday for ‘gig economy’ workers. But what happens after brexit? The guardian, Nov. 30. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/nov/30/gig-economy-workers-paid-holiday-european-court-of-justice-holiday-brexit. Accessed April 25, 2018.

  30. Murphy, P. (2017). Auto-industrialism: “Do it yourself” capitalism and the rise of the auto-industrial society. Melbourne: Sage.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  31. National Conference of State Legislatures. (2018). State minimum wages/2018: Minimum wage by state. February 2. http://www.ncsl.org/research/labor-and-employment/state-minimum-wage-chart.aspx#Table. Accessed April 7, 2018.

  32. Ngai-Ling, S., & Jessop, B. (2013). Towards a cultural political economy. London: Edward Elgar.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Ontario, Ministry of Labour. (2016). The changing workplaces review—Summary report. https://www.ontario.ca/page/changing-workplaces-review-summary-report?_ga=2.144288181.100717351.1495725331-1274832899.1489432902. Accessed April 11, 2018.

  34. Ontario, Ministry of Labour. (2017). Proposed changes to Ontario’s employment and labour laws. May 30. https://news.ontario.ca/mol/en/2017/05/proposed-changes-to-ontarios-employment-and-labour-laws.html. Accessed April 11, 2018.

  35. Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). (2011). Growing income inequality in OECD countries: What drives it and how can policy tackle it? www.oecd.org/dataoecd/32/20/47723414.pdf. Accessed March 3, 2018.

  36. Pasternak, D. (2018). California Federal Court finds that “gig economy” workers are independent contractors, not employees (US). In Employment Law Worldview, February 14. https://www.employmentlawworldview.com/california-federal-court-finds-that-gig-economy-workers-are-independent-contractors-not-employees-us/. Accessed April 23, 2018.

  37. Pearce, F. (1976/2016). Crimes of the powerful: Marxism, crime and deviance. London: Pluto Press.

  38. Pearce, F. (2015). Marxism and corporate crime in the 21st century. Red Quill Books Interview Series #3. Interviewed by Steven Bittle. Posted on February 2, 2015. http://redquillbooks.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Interview-with-Frank-Pearce-2.pdf. Accessed April 30, 2018.

  39. Roberts, J. (2016). Uber in $100 million settlement with drivers. Fortune April 12. http://fortune.com/2016/04/21/uber-drivers-settlement/. Accessed April 20, 2018.

  40. Rothe, D., & Collins, V. (2018). An extension of frank pearce’s work on crimes of the powerful: “Demystification” and the role of our consent. In S. Bittle, L. Snider, S. Tombs, & D. Whyte (Eds.), Revisiting crimes of the powerful: Marxism, crime and deviance (pp. 245–256). London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  41. Sandoval, M. (2016). Fighting precarity with cooperation: Worker cooperatives in the cultural sector. In New Formations 88: 51–68. https://culturalworkersorganize.org/.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Sartori, G. (2013). Human rights in the information society. In M. Cunha de Azevedo & N. Gomes de Andrade (Eds.), New technologies and human rights: Challenges to regulation. Taylor & Francis. ProQuest Ebook Central (pp 9–44).

  43. Sassen, S. (2013). The logics of finance. In S. Will, S. Handelman, D. Brotherton & W. Handelman (Eds.), How they got away with it: White collar criminals and the financial meltdown (pp 26–44). New York: Columbia University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  44. Semuels, A. (2018). The internet is enabling a new kind of poorly paid hell. The Atlantic, January 23, 2018.

  45. Snider, L. (2000). The sociology of corporate crime: An obituary. Theoretical Criminology, 4(2),169–206.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Snider, L. (2015). Corporate crime. Winnipeg, Manitoba: Fernwood.

    Google Scholar 

  47. Snider, L. (2018). How do i discipline thee: Let me count the ways. In J. Fudge & E. Tucker (Eds.), Law with class: Essays inspired by Harry Glasbeek. Fernwood: Winnipeg.

    Google Scholar 

  48. Streeck, W. (2016). How will capitalism end: Essays on a failing system. London: Verso Books.

    Google Scholar 

  49. Tolentino, J. (2017) The gig economy celebrates working yourself to death. The new yorker, March 22. https://www.newyorker.com/culture/jia-tolentino/the-gig-economy-celebrates-working-yourself-to-death. Accessed April 22, 2018.

  50. Tombs, S. (2016). Social protection after the crisis: Regulation without enforcement. Bristol: Policy Press.

    Google Scholar 

  51. Tombs, S., & Whyte, D. (2002). Unmasking the crimes of the powerful: Scrutinizing states and corporations. New York: Peter Lang.

    Google Scholar 

  52. Tombs, S., & Whyte, D. (2015). The corporate criminal: Why corporations must be abolished. Oxon: Routledge Publishing.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  53. US Department of Labor. (2008). Fact sheet 13: Employment relationship under the fair labor standards act. July. https://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs13.htm. Accessed April 24, 2018.

  54. US Department of Labor. (2018). Fact sheet 71: Internship programs under the fair labor standards act. January. https://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs71.htm. Accessed April 25, 2018.

  55. Workers’ Action Centre. (2015). Still working on the edge: Building decent jobs from the ground up. Toronto: Workers’ Action Centre.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Laureen Snider.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Snider, L. Enabling Exploitation: Law in the Gig Economy. Crit Crim 26, 563–577 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10612-018-9416-9

Download citation