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Report on the digital economy warns of worsening working conditions in the AI age

Report on the digital economy warns of worsening working conditions in the AI age

fairwork report fairwork report
Published on
31 Jan 2024
Written by
Anjali Krishan
A new report from Fairwork researchers sheds light on the challenges and opportunities facing workers in the gig economy.

Report on the digital economy warns of worsening working conditions in the AI age

Based on five years of research on the global platform economy, a new report from Fairwork sheds light on the challenges and opportunities workers in the digital economy will face.

2023 saw increased financial pressures on companies operating in the digital economy, the consequences of which were often passed down to workers in the form of declining pay, conditions, and management standards at work. Furthermore, the cost-of-living crisis further shrunk the already low earnings of platform workers due to a decrease in demand for services, higher work-related costs (e.g. fuel), and increased competition for jobs.

The Fairwork project has evaluated the working conditions of more than 270 companies across 38 countries. In all countries, there is evidence of workers having to work long hours, often under risky conditions, to make ends meet. While 2023 saw efforts by many countries to regulate the digital economy, most of these remain to be implemented, leaving workers vulnerable to the decisions of companies.

Despite the lack of regulation, this year more companies than ever collaborated with Fairwork to make improvements to their working conditions. Companies around the world, such as Glovo, Getir, Little Ride or iFood, made a total of 131 positive changes such as implementing a minimum wage, offering insurance or improving the terms of their contracts. However, despite these improvements most companies rated by Fairwork cannot evidence they meet all measures of decent work, especially regarding fair pay and collective representation.

One aspect of the platform economy that has become increasingly relevant over the past year is the rising use of artificial intelligence (AI) systems. A survey by Fairwork found that platform workers employed for data labelling and processing to train AI systems were making on average, $2 USD an hour, and struggled with challenges related to late payment, access to jobs and strenuous working conditions.

“Platform workers are the test grounds for the future of work. With the increasing popularity of online work platforms and AI systems, many more workplaces are being affected by issues of automated management and precarious contractual arrangements. 2024 must be the year when regulation catches up to these developments to ensure at least minimum labour standards are met” says Fairwork researcher Dr Anjali Krishan.

The current economic and geopolitical uncertainty is putting platform companies to the test. Without adequate regulation, it is likely that many of them will continue cutting off workers’ benefits and pay in search of profit. However, the fact that some companies can provide decent working conditions and remain economically viable proves that fair work is not just a desirable but a feasible outcome. Additionally, the organising efforts of workers in the platform economy and AI industry in recent years have led to a shift in perspective for consumers and regulators to demand real changes from these companies and reward those that are implementing more ethical labour practices.

Notes for editors:

For more information, please contact Navneet Gidda, Communications Co-Lead, Fairwork, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford – or Sara Spinks/Roz Pacey, Media and Communications Manager, Oxford Internet Institute –

About the research:

This publication arises from research funded by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), commissioned by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

About Fairwork
Fairwork is an action-research project coordinated by the Oxford Internet Institute and the WZB Berlin Social Science Center. Through a global network of researchers, Fairwork evaluates the working conditions on digital platforms and ranks them based on five principles of fair work. The five Principles of Fairwork were developed through an extensive literature review of published research on job quality, stakeholder meetings in Geneva (involving platform operators, policymakers, trade unions, and academics), and in-country meetings with local stakeholders. Globally, Fairwork collaborates closely with workers, platforms, advocates, and policymakers to envision and build a fairer future of work. See here for a list of collaborating institutions.

Download the latest Fairwork report.

About the Oxford Internet Institute
The Oxford Internet Institute (OII) is a multidisciplinary research and teaching department of the University of Oxford, dedicated to the social science of the Internet. Drawing from many different disciplines, the OII works to understand how individual and collective behaviour online shapes our social, economic and political world. Since its founding in 2001, research from the OII has had a significant impact on policy debate, formulation and implementation around the globe, as well as a secondary impact on people’s wellbeing, safety and understanding. Drawing on many different disciplines, the OII takes a combined approach to tackling society’s big questions, with the aim of positively shaping the development of the digital world for the public good.


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