Cooperatives at the Intersection of Fair Algorithmic Design, Data Sovereignty, and Worker Rights

The fair algorithmic design experiences of platform cooperatives can serve as a reference for union collective bargaining regarding aspects of artificial intelligence management systems that impact workers’ lives. 

By prioritizing fair algorithmic design experiences, platform cooperatives can provide a solid foundation for union collective bargaining. Fair algorithms ensure that workers’ rights and interests are protected in algorithmic decision-making processes, allowing unions to negotiate for fair and transparent workplace policies and practices. 

For example, unions may advocate for algorithmic transparency requirements, ensuring that workers have access to information about how algorithms operate and how decisions are made. 

Platform cooperatives may implement algorithms that ensure fair distribution of tasks, transparent decision-making processes, and equitable compensation mechanisms. By embedding principles of fairness and justice into their algorithmic systems, these cooperatives seek to mitigate the negative externalities associated with algorithmic management, such as exploitation, discrimination, and surveillance.

Before delving into the significance of fair algorithmic design experiences, it is essential to understand the concept of platform cooperatives and their objectives. Platform cooperatives are enterprises that leverage digital platforms, such as websites or mobile applications, to provide goods or services. What sets them apart from traditional platforms is their commitment to democratic decision-making and shared ownership among workers and users. Unlike conventional platforms, where profits are concentrated in the hands of a few shareholders or investors, platform cooperatives distribute the benefits more equitably among their members.

In recent years, the rise of platform cooperatives has presented an alternative model for organizing labor in the digital economy. These cooperatives, characterized by their democratic ownership and governance structures, aim to empower workers and distribute the benefits of digital platforms more equitably. However, as platform cooperatives continue to proliferate, there is a growing recognition of the need to ensure that their design and operation align with principles of fairness, transparency, and social justice

By organizing workers as owners and stakeholders in the platform economy, these cooperatives enable workers to negotiate better wages, working conditions, and benefits. Moreover, platform cooperatives provide a platform for workers to collectively advocate for their rights, address grievances, and challenge exploitative practices in the gig economy. 

Examples of platform cooperativism in Latin America

From a perspective rooted in the Global South, the rise of platform cooperativism has emerged shaping the future of work and offering an alternative to models that perpetuate structural informality and precarious labor relations.

In Brazil, platform cooperativism has a lot of innovative cases that prioritizes principles of equity, transparency, and participation in fostering an inclusive digital economy.

A prominent example in the country is AppJusto, a ride-sharing platform launched in 2020 in the Brazilian city of Araraquara. Unlike traditional gig economy models, AppJusto operates on cooperative principles, ensuring fair and equitable distribution of value generated from each trip. Drivers receive 95 percent of user payments, significantly higher than the less than 60 percent typically earned on other commercial platforms. The remaining 5 percent goes towards sustaining the cooperative and providing personalized support to users and drivers.

AppJusto embodies cooperative management principles and aligns with local municipal development policies. Notably, the platform prioritizes transparency by making its application code openly accessible, allowing for active participation and data access by both users and partners.

Another noteworthy initiative in Brazil is Señoritas Courier, a bicycle delivery service exclusively operated by cisgender women and transgender individuals. Established in 2017, the cooperative offers deliveries across São Paulo by appointment only. Featured in a documentary, Señoritas Courier brings a feminist and gender-inclusive perspective to delivery services, promoting diversity, sustainability, and fair working conditions, thereby challenging gender biases prevalent in the digital economy.

Research by the Brazilian Centre of Analysis and Planning (CEBRAP) and the Brazilian Mobility and Technology Association (AMOBITEC) indicates that only 5 percent of the over 1.6 million app or delivery drivers in Brazil are women, underscoring the need for initiatives like Señoritas Courier.

In Mexico, Thlok Ciclologística is a cooperative project specializing in bicycle deliveries, offering e-commerce services via a web shop and mobile application. Serving both individuals and businesses, the project is supported by CoopCycle, a federation of cooperatives across 16 countries.

CoopCycle, originating in Europe, is democratically managed by member initiatives and has expanded to Latin America with the establishment of CoopCycle Latin America in December 2021. Active in Mexico, Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay, CoopCycle provides a comprehensive open-source algorithmic cycle-logistics management tool, allowing cooperatives to manage deliveries and customers to access services while ensuring cooperative control through a reciprocity license.

Insights from platform cooperativism and trade unionism in the Global South

Platform cooperativism represents a convergence of technological innovation and cooperative principles, responding to the needs of precarious workers striving for participatory and democratic processes in algorithmic management.

Cooperative practices in programming, training, and algorithmic management are pertinent not only to platform workers but to all employees subject to varying degrees of algorithmic control in the workplace. Trade unions are increasingly integrating fair algorithmic design practices into their agendas, aiming to address algorithmic management in collective bargaining for diverse categories of workers.

The emergence of platform cooperativism represents a significant paradigm shift in the realm of labor relations, particularly within the context of the digital economy. Platform cooperatives, characterized by their emphasis on democratic decision-making and shared ownership among workers and users, offer a compelling alternative to the traditional model of platform capitalism. These cooperatives prioritize the well-being of their members over profit maximization, fostering a sense of community and solidarity within their respective ecosystems.

Unlike conventional platforms that prioritize efficiency and profitability, platform cooperatives prioritize fairness, transparency, and accountability in their algorithmic systems. This entails designing algorithms that promote equity, minimize bias, and prioritize the interests of workers and users.

Fair algorithmic design experiences also empower workers to challenge unfair or discriminatory practices through collective bargaining. By providing workers with the tools and knowledge to understand and critique algorithmic systems, platform cooperatives can support unions in advocating for policies that promote fairness, accountability, and equity. This may include negotiating for algorithmic auditing and oversight mechanisms to monitor algorithmic decision-making and address any biases or errors. 

Algorithms, like their human counterparts, can perpetuate existing inequalities if not designed and implemented with care. For example, a hiring algorithm trained on biased data may inadvertently favor certain demographics over others, leading to discriminatory outcomes. Similarly, algorithms used to monitor worker performance may penalize individuals based on factors beyond their control, such as workload or external circumstances.

While platform cooperatives offer a promising model for fostering economic democracy, they are not immune to the challenges posed by algorithmic management. Algorithmic management refers to the use of algorithms and automated systems to oversee and control various aspects of work, including task allocation, performance monitoring, and decision-making. While these algorithms can improve efficiency and productivity, they also raise concerns about transparency, accountability, and fairness.

The Importance of Fair Algorithmic Design

To address these challenges, platform cooperatives must prioritize fair algorithmic design experiences. Fair algorithmic design involves designing algorithms and automated systems that are transparent, accountable, and equitable. It requires careful consideration of the social and ethical implications of algorithmic decision-making and a commitment to mitigating bias and discrimination.

Fair algorithms treat all individuals equitably and ensure that decisions are based on relevant and non-discriminatory criteria. This means taking proactive measures to identify and eliminate biases in training data, algorithmic models, and decision-making processes. It also involves incorporating mechanisms for transparency and accountability, allowing workers to understand how algorithms operate and challenge decisions that may be unfair or discriminatory.

Transparency is another critical aspect of fair algorithmic design. Transparent algorithms provide clear explanations of their decision-making processes and outcomes, enabling workers to understand how and why certain decisions are made. This transparency not only fosters trust and accountability but also allows workers to identify and address any biases or errors in algorithmic systems.

Additionally, fair algorithmic design emphasizes the importance of ongoing monitoring and evaluation. Algorithms are not static entities but evolve over time in response to changing circumstances and feedback. As such, it is essential to regularly assess algorithmic performance, identify potential biases or issues, and implement corrective measures as needed. This iterative process of monitoring and evaluation ensures that algorithms remain fair, transparent, and accountable throughout their lifecycle.

Furthermore, platform cooperatives recognize the importance of data sovereignty and governance in the digital age. Unlike conventional platforms that extract and monetize user data for corporate gain, platform cooperatives prioritize data ownership and control among their members. This involves establishing robust data governance frameworks that protect user privacy, prevent data exploitation, and ensure democratic control over data assets.

For instance, platform cooperatives may implement data sharing agreements, data protection protocols, and user consent mechanisms to safeguard the rights and interests of their members. By empowering workers and users to exercise control over their data, these cooperatives aim to foster trust, accountability, and empowerment within their communities.

In addition to promoting fair algorithmic design and data governance, platform cooperatives play a crucial role in advancing workers’ rights and collective bargaining in the digital age. As digital labor platforms continue to proliferate, platform cooperatives offer an alternative model that prioritizes worker empowerment, collective action, and social solidarity.

Collective Bargaining

For example, platform cooperatives may facilitate collective bargaining agreements, worker-led governance structures, and solidarity networks to strengthen workers’ bargaining power and representation. By promoting worker ownership and control, these cooperatives seek to democratize the economy, reduce inequality, and build more resilient and sustainable communities.

In conclusion, platform cooperativism represents a transformative approach to labor relations in the digital age. By prioritizing fair algorithmic design, data sovereignty, and workers’ rights, platform cooperatives offer a compelling alternative to the exploitative practices of traditional platform capitalism. 

By demonstrating a commitment to fairness, transparency, and social justice, platform cooperatives can build stronger relationships with unions and create a more inclusive and equitable work environment. This collaborative approach to collective bargaining can lead to better outcomes for workers, businesses, and society as a whole.

Learn more about the author.