šŸ’”
Good morning!

This week, I started a 4-month world trip with my family. After two travel days, the first part of our journey started yesterday: an expedition through Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa. A jeep with two tents on the roof will be our home for the next 10 weeks. After that, we will take another 7 weeks to explore Indonesia. Why? Because you shouldn’t put off beautiful things in life and there is always a ‘yes but’ to think of for everything you ever want to do again.

During this period, the newsletter as you know it will not appear. However, I will occasionally (I suspect monthly) share a blog through this newsletter. In this edition, I share a podcast and blog about the Crowdsourcing Code I created on behalf of the WageIndicator Foundation: an organisation I have been associated with as an independent professional for over 2 years.

Cheers! Martijn

In Germany, crowdwork platforms concluded a code of conduct about 5 years ago to better serve workers. How successful is this initiative? And what can we learn from it?

In Germany, eight platforms have signed a code of conduct called the ‘Crowdsourcing Code’. This document contains agreed terms, including fair compensation for workers. The code is an initiative of Munich-based software testing platform Testbirds. This case has been mentioned in several surveys, but no one had yet bothered to really dive deep into it. So I boarded a train to Munich on behalf of the WageIndicator Foundation and spoke to Markus Steinhauser, Chief Operating Officer (COO) of crowdwork platform Testbirds and initiator of the code of conduct. In this blog, I share my insights.

The interview can be listened to as an episode of The Gig Work Podcast.

How it started

The code of conduct was set up in 2015, when there was a negative perception about platforms in German politics and media. After meeting about this with other platform entrepreneurs, Markus took the initiative for a code of conduct to improve the position of platform workers. Eventually, eight platforms joined. These are all so-called ‘crowdwork’ platforms, where most of the work takes place online. The member platforms collectively serve more than two million platform workers.

The code

The code of conduct focuses specifically on crowdwork, because digital platform workers have different needs than, for example, taxi drivers or delivery workers. The code of conduct is based on a survey of workers and consultation among platforms. There are 10 principles:

  1. Gigs correspond to laws and regulations
  2. Clarification of legal situations
  3. Fair payment
  4. Motivating and good work
  5. Respectful interactions
  6. Clear tasks and within a reasonable time frame
  7. Freedom and flexibility
  8. Constructive feedback and open communication
  9. Regulated approval process
  10. Data protection and privacy

The crowdwork ombudsman

The ‘crowdwork ombudsman’ has also been part of the Code of Conduct since 2017. This is a body to which platform workers can turn in case of questions or conflicts with platforms. Since its establishment, this ombudsman has handled more than 100 cases.

Several voices are represented in the body:

  1. A neutral chairman;
  2. A representative of the German Crowdsourcing Association;
  3. A representative of the German Trade Union Confederation (DGB);
  4. A representative from one of the member platforms;
  5. A platform worker registered with one of the affiliated platforms.

Trade union support

The code of conduct is also officially supported by the German Crowdsourcing Association (“Deutscher Crowdsourcing Verband”), and trade union IG Metall also joined in 2017. The union welcomes this form of self-regulation among platforms, but stresses that the government must eventually come up with regulations as well. This constructive attitude of the union is nice to see. The union movement certainly does not agree with everything the platforms do, but in this way it keeps its finger on the pulse and discovers new opportunities to support working people.

How attention wanes over time

The big challenge of such a code of conduct is how to maintain long-term motivation so that the initiative can grow. In 2015, the project had momentum and urgency, but today the attention of member platforms seems to be waning. Of the eight platforms, only two refer to the ombudsman. Only Testbirds clearly communicates the code of conduct on its website.

Hence, there is no active enforcement. Looking at the website through Waybackmachine.org over the years, nothing seems to have changed for a while. Since 2017, the principles, which are after all quite generic, have not evolved.

How it could be better

In the ideal world, the platforms would further develop the Crowdsourcing Code and actively involve workers in it. They would make the principles much more tangible and adhere to the code seriously. Those who do not would be disciplined for doing so. Platforms would work together to increase the number of affiliates: from platforms to public stakeholders.

In practice, the (mostly small) organisations are mostly concerned with the delusion of the day. Optimising the code of conduct is not part of the organisation’s core business. It is admirable how Markus has been committed to the code for eight years now while expanding his business abroad. But he cannot do it alone. For long-term success, such an initiative needs to be adopted over time by the various stakeholders. It must be worth something for platforms and unions to seriously build such an initiative. After all, trade unions also seem to be ‘guests’ when they could be equal partners.

Over time, the initiators could secure the code in a foundation with its own funding stream. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment could join. This would also strengthen the independence and reliability of the code: currently, participation is too non-committal for platforms. Such an initiative deserves much more attention and energy, so that it can grow and increase its impact.

Conclusion

The Crowdsourcing Code is a unique example that shows that it is possible to reach agreements between platforms. In addition, I like the fact that a union dares to cooperate, without approving all activities of platforms.

Although there is still a lot of potential in the initiative, I wonder whether the platforms alone will ever fully realise this. In doing so, it is important that all stakeholders take responsibility and are willing to independently underwrite the initiative. Above all, they must show ambition.

Listen to the podcast with Markus Steinhauser, COO of Testbirds and founder of the Crowdsourcing Code.

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