A very interesting article was published this week in Metropoli about the "invisible riders"; those who rent the accounts of other food delivery app users (click here to read (in Spanish)). The invisible riders are doubly exploited, first by the platforms and second by the account holder, who takes a cut of at least 30% on all deliveries. "There is a cascade of exploitations," says Oscar Murciano, of the CGT union in Catalonia.
This is not a small phenomenon. In Barcelona, one invisible rider estimates 70-80% of riders use rented accounts. A CGT affiliated rider puts the figure at 40%. Either way, that's a huge section of the workforce. Why does this happen?
The invisible rider is most likely an undocumented immigrant, meaning they don't have a residence permit and thus do not have permission to work legally in Spain. Renting accounts is a way to get work, as they never have to see their boss, and therefore the barriers to access this work illegally are low, even if the take-home pay is peanuts and the risks are higher as they have to work more hours and accept the worst routes to boost their salary. "It is a very slave job," one invisible rider of Pakistani origin told Metropoli. "Right now you almost pay to work."
Why is this allowed? For company's like Glovo, Spain's largest food delivery platform, there is a suspicion that they are quite happy to tolerate a black market in their apps as the invisible riders are more likely to accept poverty wages and will do the long-distance routes that other riders may be less willing to accept. "Glovo...is aware and allows it," a rider in CGT says. "This scenario guarantees that there are always distributors on the streets."
Glovo claim they have security measures to prevent illegal use of their app, including a facial recognition system, but the invisible riders in Barcelona who spoke to Metropoli say they have found it easy to get around this, and believe that it "is only intended to be protection against a possible lawsuit".
In any case, better facial recognition software is hardly a solution to a problem rooted in the racial hierarchy of contemporary global capitalism, where undocumented migrants sit at the bottom of the pyramid. Glovo is only the latest in a long-line of companies going back hundreds of years which have exploited this hierarchy for their own gain, something which should be remembered during Black History Month.
The answer to the double-exploitation of the invisible riders should be to make them visible by giving them the right to work, but it should also be to hold the platforms to account for failing to take full responsibility for the welfare of all of their workforce.
Ben Wray, Gig Economy Project co-ordinator