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Contxto – Death and trastes (dirty dishes) seem to be the only certainties in life during the Covid-19 pandemic. Everyone is looking to keep afloat as best they can, but where there is a struggle to survive there are clashes between competing interests.
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What was interesting about yesterday’s news was that the erstwhile competing interests within the last-mile delivery and mobility ecosystem in Colombia have teamed up to face-off with what they perceive to be an even bigger threat—government regulation.
The union is made up of 11 mobility, logistics, and last-mile delivery startups. Together—Rappi, Didi, Beat, Uber, Gocap, Cabify, Grin, Domicilios.com, Muvo, Mensajeros Urbanos, and Polymath Ventures—will be known as Alianza In.
Revolving door from government official to official lobbyist
As opposed to worker’s unions who resort to industrial action, Alianza In has opted to go down the path of lobbying and public pressure to achieve its aims.
Therefore, its platform tries to be a broad tent to account for the amalgam of demographics it hopes to bring over to its cause. Their chief points focus are only the regulators, the local and national levels of the Colombian government, and public opinion.
On their own, these tech companies have already been known to resort to legal action against regulators, lobbying of the government, and rallying the consumer-citizenry behind them. But, in unison, these actors will be a force to be reckoned with.
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Particularly, if you take into account the experience they will be mustering by placing the leadership of the group in the experienced hands of David Luna, recently Colombia’s minister for Information Technologies and Communications (TIC)
This sort of choice, though perfectly above board, is often questioned by many who see the revolving door of government official-turned-lobbyists as a patent conflict of interest.
Apps of the political economy
The worry of conflict of interest should is coupled with the vagueness of purpose as to what these companies are trying to achieve in unison. I mean, clearly, they want their business to be able to run more smoothly, unimpeded by cumbersome regulation—obviously, they are companies and that’s fair enough.
However, the way Alianza In cloaks their rhetoric is a tad disconcerting. Their launching statement reaches for buzzwords commonly associated with politicians on the campaign trail, not straight-shooting private sector actors.
The 11 “new generation” companies promise “solutions with an economic and social impact for the country through the use of technology and innovation.”
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These lofty ideals, though perhaps effective in convincing the Twitter mob or a soft-hearted politician, also put an additional moral onus on the companies. Campaign promises are a double-edged sword: They sound nice, but betray these values and you’ll find yourself in a world of pain.
Indeed, I specifically worry about the promise to achieve a “social impact”.
Scaleups concentrating on the wellbeing of their customers is all well and good, since it lines up with their profit-making directive. But society is not made up solely of “customers”, and it is here, as you might have suspected, that we find a gaping elephant-sized hole in the room.
A fleet of elephants in the gig economy room
I’ll level with you. When I first glanced over the announcement and saw the words “11 apps”, “last-mile”, and “unionizing”, my mind instinctively went into shock:
Had the delivery partners working for these companies actually taken the massive step of, not only forming a union, but of doing so over the whole of Colombia and across company lines?
It should say something about our ecosystem’s state of affairs when one this thought is seen as revolutionary when the actual news ends up being a pretty run of the mill lobbying effort.
Why? Because, despite isolated protests, the delivery staff of many of these companies are not actually employees, but rather independent contractors relegated to the gig economy with scarce access to healthcare provisions and unstable incomes.
Only two ways about it
Add to this, courtesy of 2020, the risk of contagion.
People, governments, and companies alike face tough choices during a crisis, but there are two ways of going about it. There’s the path of every-app-for-itself, where success is seen as a zero-sum-game with other folks being thrown under the bus. And there’s the altruistic route, where the pain is mitigated and new and unexpected alliances are formed.
So, far we’ve seen both types of survival strategy. Whether, as the Covid-19 depression gets worse, one begins to predominate over the other is up to the players involved—and in whose favor they do their lobbying.
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