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Food Delivery Workers in China


Danyun Xiong

London School of Economics and Political Science, GB
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As digital platforms have become increasingly important in China, food delivery service has grown exponentially, constituting millions of workers. This study examines the labor conditions of two Chinese food delivery platforms: and Meituan as well as analyzes the exploitative nature of the platforms and the agency of workers. It first provides an overview of the platform-based food delivery industry. Workers enjoyed the built-in flexibility the platforms offered, but are subjected to algorithmic control of the platforms. Couriers have the autonomy to master the rules and make a relatively decent livelihood compared with working in the factories, becoming increasingly dependent on the platforms. An increasing number of workers joining has instead resulted in a volatile economic outcome and faced with insufficient social security when the platform companies try to minimize profits. The lack of legal protections and social security from the platforms makes couriers highly precarious as the platform companies outsourced labor recruitment to third-party specialized staffing agencies and employed little personalized management towards workers. Based on this, this article tries to raise and understand the question: under what conditions does labor politics lead to collective resistance in China’s food-delivery platform economy? The “platform architecture” may help shed light on these doubts. Couriers may consider their work relations exploitative, which sometimes results in collective action, despite atomization and individualisation of makes mobilization harder. Workers found self-help alliances on WeChat and engage in small-scale strikes. However, these strikes fail to properly promote their interests in the increasingly strict political constraints.
How to Cite: Xiong, D., 2022. Food Delivery Workers in China. LSE International Development Review, 2(2).
Published on 20 Apr 2022.
Peer Reviewed


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