India: Platform Coop Research

Recommendations

There is a growing need and opportunity for platform cooperative incubation and growth, according to a summary review of the platform and cooperative economy in Gujarat and Kerala, as well as subsequent developments in the rest of India. Some industries lend themselves better to platformization than others. Below, we parse through some of the sectors covered in the report that we believe are especially suited to platform co-op development, and attempt a summary evaluation of where it might fit in and its prospects. It should go without saying that the generalized nature of such recommendations makes them useful for indicating areas where further investigation may likely yield fruit, but that they are heavily dependent on the regional context of social, economic, and political forces and are not intended to be perspective. Other Indian states that were not included in the scope of this study but should be given special consideration for future expansion in terms of cooperative density and tech sector development are Maharashtra, Karnataka, West Bengal, Telengana, and the Union Territory of Delhi. The recommendations that follow are based on this research as well as two field trips to Kerala and Gujarat before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Agriculture, dairy, and agriculture-related industries account for roughly one-third of all cooperatives in India. They are the most promising candidates for developing platform cooperatives for two reasons: To begin with, the presence of a large proportion of cooperatives indicates that people involved in these sectors are already familiar with, if not members of, cooperatives and the fundamentally different model of ownership and governance they contain when compared to other workplaces. 

While the actual application of democratic principles is not as prevalent as the cooperatives themselves, this familiarity is beneficial for future development and experimentation. Second, these sectors have been the focus of an intensive digitization drive spearheaded by the Indian government, as evidenced by the proliferation of various projects aimed at this end across the country. These industries will undergo significant digitization in the coming years, and it is at this early stage of change that platform cooperatives can take the lead. 

Platforms for external marketplaces and internal information sharing that could be aimed at product aggregation appear to be particularly high in this regard. In India, the services sector has been on an economic ascension that is likely to continue. With the manufacturing and agricultural sectors in relative decline; the rise of the gig economy, particularly through platform-based work; and the rise in collective organizing in the latter; these three factors have combined to highlight certain sectors within the broader services sector in terms of their potential for platform cooperative development. In this context, three areas have seen widespread activity in terms of worker-collectivization efforts and a push for worker rights: 

  • Ride-hailing app-based workers
  • Carework
  • Delivery service workers

Banking (particularly with access to credit and loan management) and communications are two other sectors that will be critical in fostering conducive conditions for platform cooperativism but have not seen significant organizing efforts (for developing platforms for internal organization and coalitional channels). 

Agriculture and related industries, services, banking, and communications will all provide fertile ground for sowing the seeds of a platform cooperative ecosystem in India. Based on our preliminary findings, the increasing corporatization of the economy, informalization of work, and digitization of the workplace appear to be a growing behemoth. Because digitization is still in its early stages for a large portion of the economy, introducing collective ownership practices over platforms provides an opportunity to ensure a democratic and dignified life for an increasing number of platform workers. Platform cooperatives offer a set of approaches for tipping the scales.