Far From Seamless: A Workers’ Inquiry at Deliveroo
There has been a rapid growth of companies offering food delivery services through online platforms, including: Deliveroo, UberEATS, Amazon Restaurants, Foodora, foodpanda/hellofood, and Seamless, to name a few. The basic premise is to replace existing arrangements for takeaway delivery food, centralizing the process on an online platform. There are similarities with Uber’s business model, seeking to (as the current popular term states) “disrupt” an existing business model. The emergence of these companies connects eager venture capital with startup founders, often trying to hide the labor of the workers on which the platforms rely. Yet, the branded uniforms of these companies—either on bicycles or mopeds—have becoming an increasingly common sight in major cities.
In the UK there has been another wave of disruption, but not one that had been planned for in these new business models. In July 2016, the UK Border Agency (UKBA) raided multiple Byron Burger restaurants in central London, as well as the Deliveroo recruitment office, carrying out a mass arrest of undocumented workers. This was a collaborative trap fabricated by the state and businesses. Deliveroo’s workforce is largely populated by immigrants, and Byron Burgers is one of Deliveroo’s key partners. Once the news spread, many riders began boycotting Byron orders, refusing to deliver their food to customers. The message was spread through WhatsApp, social media, and moved, through the drivers, into different parts of the city. These combined to create a climate in which there was greater cohesion and solidarity. The connections between the multiplicity of socio-spatial layers were thickening.