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The theme of the 2016 World Economic Forum is “The Fourth Industrial Revolution” - Or how technological developments such as the sharing economy create new notions of ownership, and a need for more meaningful social connections.
The sharing or collaborative, an economy is a new type of business built on the concept of shared resources. This ability to share what is available allows customers to access goods or services when they are needed, rather than having to purchase them “just in case” they need them.
These forms of work can provide a good match of job opportunities and allow flexible working schedules. However, they can also pave the way to a severe commodification of work.
Co-operative enterprise, with its unique take on governance and values, can contribute to putting people before profit in the Fourth Revolution.
(Photo: Alliance President Monique Leroux with Nobel Prize winner Michael Spence at the 2016 World Economic Forum.)
How can the co-operative model contribute to the 4th Revolution? It can, both at the level of the economy and at workfloor level.
At the level of the economy, co-operatives help regulate work in the ‘gig economy’. The ‘gig economy’ includes ‘crowd-work’ and ‘work-on-demand via apps’. The challenges are that workers become invisible. When you stream a movie on-line, the site will recommend another movie you may like. This recommendation is based on information supplied by workers who have hand-tagged television shows and film for content, based on their knowledge. There is a worker behind the computer. But is this person benefiting from prevailing labour laws?
A second challenge is the misclassification of employment status - Many on-line platforms are quick to dismiss any responsibility as employers, categorizing these workers as independent contractors. The rise in the number of disputes and litigations on this issue indicates the need for responses. Workers have little recourse if their work is rejected by the ‘client’, inviting wage theft. Workers are ‘unlisted’ (or in practice - dismissed).
Offering work on the market within the frame of a co-operative formalises: the co-operative provides a legal basis which is still flexible enough to encourage entrepreneurs.
The co-operative statute allows to employ as well as to be employed. A co-operative statute also comes with a set of ethical obligations - of which giving back to community is one,fostering sustainable and socially responsible economic activity. The Fourth Revolution will only succeed if people's rights are respected, thus creating greater equality. Co-operatives are part of the solution - technology can be the oil in the motor, but co-ops can truly drive the Fourth Revolution.