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New Oxford Report Sheds Light on Labour Malpractices in the Remote Work and AI Booms


New Oxford Report Sheds Light on Labour Malpractices in the Remote Work and AI Booms

Published on
20 Jul 2023
Fairwork scores 15 web-based digital platforms against basic principles of fair work. No companies meet minimum standards for fair working practices.

LONDON – Today, the Fairwork project – based at the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford and the WZB Berlin Social Science Center – releases its Cloudwork Ratings 2023 report. Following deep investigations of the pay, conditions, contracts, management, and worker representation of 15 online freelance and microwork platforms – including Amazon Mechanical Turk, Scale AI, Fiverr, and Upwork – Fairwork’s researchers find that these platforms fail to meet minimum standards of fair work.

The Cloudwork report’s findings come at a critical time. Research estimates that 163 million workers globally are active on freelance and microwork platforms. These platforms are poised to continue expanding following:  the global shift to remote work in the aftermath of the Coronavirus pandemic, and the meteoric rise of AI services that depend on human labour for training and moderation. 

The researchers find that these platforms are creating a new global 24/7 labour market operating outside of existing worker protections. 

“Many people rush to the latest technologies and enjoy the fruits of fast-paced innovation without stopping to think about how the product arrived to where it got,” said Dr. Jonas C L Valente, Postdoctoral Researcher and lead author of the Fairwork Cloudwork 2023 Ratings

“The ugly truth is that some of the cutting-edge technologies we are growing to love come at the expense of workers who depend on these platforms for their livelihood. Having year-over-year research diving into these topics, with new tech trends blooming each time, these platforms have failed to meet the basic standards of what constitutes fair working practices. If the business model depends on circumventing regulation, then it’s time to address how these companies operate in markets around the world in our planetary economy.”

Each Fairwork principle is broken down into two qualifications and scored based on a points system. The second point can only be awarded if the first qualification has been fulfilled, meaning companies were all given scores out of 10 total. With these being minimum standards, having a 10/10 rating simply means that the company is complying with the bare minimum. 

Rankings of the 15 companies are as follows: Comeup – 5 points; Prolific – 5 points; Terawork – 5 points; Appen – 3 points; Soy Freelancer – 2 points; Upwork – 2 points; Clickworker – 1 point; Elharefa – 1 point; Fiverr – 1 point; People per Hour – 1 point; Scale / Remotasks – 1 point; Freelancer – 0 points; Microworkers – 0 points; Amazon Mechanical Turk – 0 points; Workana – 0 points. 

Other key findings include:

  • The demand on freelancer and microwork platforms is from clients located in the Global North, while the vast majority of the supply of labour is located in the Global South.
  • Most platforms could not provide evidence that they had policies to ensure that workers earned at least their local minimum wage, including: Fiverr, Amazon Mechanical Turk, and Upwork.
  • Platform workers experience problems of low- and non-payment and long working hours, and risks and harm resulting from dangerous tasks (e.g. tasks involving exposure to distressing and/ or violent content).
  • Platform management systems operate opaquely – usually operated by automated, algorithmic means – and arduous dispute resolution processes frequently shift the balance of power towards clients.
  • Despite widespread labour malpractices, clients involved in AI development – including Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Nvidia, and the U.S. Government – rely on microwork platforms for human tasks like data annotation, labelling, image tagging, content moderation.

Fairwork reached out to every platform in this study and suggested clear changes they could make in order to improve working conditions on their platforms. In response, Comeup and Terawork implemented minimum wage policies, and those two platforms, along with Appen and Soy Freelancer, also adopted a number of measures to address issues related to health and safety, contracts, management, and discrimination. In total, these four platforms adopted 17 changes in the last 12 months but still have a way to go.



About The Fairwork Project

The Fairwork project studies working conditions on digital labour platforms and rates individual platforms based on their fairness to workers. Its goal is to highlight the best and worst practices in the platform economy and to show that better and fairer platform jobs are possible. Fairwork, at its essence, is a way of imagining a different and fairer, platform economy than the one we have today. By evaluating platforms against measures of fairness, we hope to not just show what the platform economy is, but also what it can be.

The project uses three approaches to effectively measure fairness of working conditions at digital labour platforms: desk research, worker interviews and surveys, and interviews with platform management. Through these three methods, Fairwork seeks evidence on whether platforms act in accordance with the five Fairwork principles.

The project is based at the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, and at the WZB Berlin Social Science Center (Germany), and is financed, among others, by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), commissioned by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

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