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PRESS RELEASE -
New Fairwork study exposes the precarious working conditions of online work platforms

Published on
24 Aug 2022
Written by
Kelle Howson, Jonas C. L. Valente and Mark Graham
New Fairwork report highlights best and worst employment conditions across the digital labour platforms.

New Fairwork study exposes the precarious working conditions of online work platforms

  • Majority of online work platforms fail to provide fair working conditions for remote online workers
  • Nearly a third of online platform workers aren’t being paid for completed tasks
  • On average, workers spent over 8 hours a week on unpaid tasks

A new report from researchers at the Fairwork project, based at the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, reveals that most online work platforms are not providing workers with fair working conditions.

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Fairwork Cloudwork Ratings report 2022

The Fairwork Cloudwork Ratings report 2022 evaluates working conditions at 15 popular freelance and microwork platforms such as Fiverr, Upwork and Amazon Mechanical Turk.  The Oxford researchers assessed the companies according to five principles of fair work: fair pay, conditions, contracts, management, and representation. ‘ Cloudwork’ is defined by the researchers as work that can be performed remotely via digital work platforms.

Researchers found that 30% of those workers interviewed in the survey reported completing a task and not being paid for it.

The report also highlights how workers experience different types of unpaid labour, including wage theft resulting from non-payment for completed tasks, engaging in contests, job searching and applications, extra tasks demanded by clients, reputation building through frequent client networking and profile updating, and sending free samples to requesters.

Around 40% of those surveyed said time spent looking for clients or tasks online was the most common type of unpaid work, whilst 16.5% of workers said applying for jobs was also another source of unpaid time spent on online platforms.

Lead author of the report Dr Kelle Howson, formerly a researcher at the Fairwork project, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford said: “Estimates show that more than 160 million people across the world work remotely for online work platforms, doing everything from small tasks such as labelling data and filling out surveys to professional jobs like translation, design, and web development. These platforms offer income opportunities to workers based in any country and are increasingly used by all sorts of organisations to outsource tasks to cheaper labour, often in the Global South”.

The research also reveals that the workers in the sample spent, on average, over 8.5 hours per week on platforms on unpaid tasks.

Of the 15 platforms featured in the report, online work platform Profilic fared the best, scoring seven points out of ten for fair working conditions, followed by Jovoto rated five out of ten and Workana, rated four out of ten by Fairwork researchers.  For the other 12 platforms, the Fairwork researchers were unable to evidence that they met more than three of ten thresholds. For four platforms, researchers could not find evidence that they met any fair work threshold.

Report co-author, Dr Jonas Valente, researcher at the Fairwork project, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford adds: “For most of these online work platforms, we cannot find evidence that they meet basic standards of decent work and that unpaid labour really does constitute a reality in the most popular microwork and online freelancing platforms.”

In the majority of cases, researchers were unable to find any evidence that companies had policies in place to ensure that all workers earned at least their local minimum wage, that contracts were fair and transparent and did not require workers to waive their rights to reasonable legal recourse, and that workers were provided with information in advance about how the data or other work they produced would be used.

Dr Howson concludes: “Whilst it is encouraging that some platforms have made important changes to improve conditions for their workers, showing a model of fair platform work is possible across online remote work platforms, there is still a long way to go before we see real change across the sector. We urge governments and regulators to come together and do more to help protect workers across this booming sector.”

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For more information, please call +44 (0) 1865 287 210 or contact navneet.gidda@oii.ox.ac.uk or sara.spinks@oii.ox.ac.uk.

Notes to Editors

The Fairwork Cloudwork 2022 ratings

Platform Score 2022
Prolific 7
Jovoto 5
Workana 4
Appen 3
5 euros 2
Clickworker 2
Scale / Remotasks 2
99designs 1
Fiverr 1
Soy Freelancer 1
Upwork 1
Amazon Mechanical Turk 0
Freelancer 0
Microworkers 0
People per Hour 0

About the Cloudwork report

The authors define cloudwork as work that can be performed remotely via digital labour platforms. According to the latest research, more than 160 million people across the world work remotely for online work platforms, doing everything from small tasks such as labelling data and filling out surveys to professional jobs like translation, design, and web development. The researchers surveyed 613 workers across 84 countries, carried out between January and July 2022.

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.

 

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