Companies claim to provide 'fair trade' data work

Signal of change / Companies claim to provide 'fair trade' data work

By Anna Simpson / 19 Sep 2019
Photo by Charles on Unsplash

A small group of companies providing AI services claim that they are treating their contract data workers ethically, by providing benefits usually only available to employees.

AI depends on a lot of 'hidden labour': people who clean, categorize, and label the data to prepare it for AI to search. Most of this is done by gig workers who earn low wages with no social security or progression opportunities. This enables the companies they serve to compete on the cost and speed of their services. 


Several platforms, including Alegion, CloudFactory, Digital Divide Data (DDD), iMerit, and Samasource, claim they are working to make AI data work dignified, by offering better working conditions and career prospects. For instance, iMerit, whose workforce is mostly in India, offers career progression and six months of maternity leave. In Kenya and Uganda, workers for Samasource have full-time jobs with benefits such as health care, pensions, subsidized meals, and 90 days of maternity leave. 

So what?

This movement towards 'fair trade' data work suggests a growing will to bring about a more equitable and secure gig economy. Can such ethical pioneers survive?  Developing the model is a struggle without regulation to support them. More cut-throat competitors can quickly price them out of business.    Yet there are signs of the regulation changing too: California's Assembly Bill 5, which reclassifies gig workers as employees with the same rights if their work contributes to the company's core business, is one example.    Will gig workers organise sufficiently to create demand for more such regulation? And will consumers and company stakeholders begin to apply the pressure?  


What might the implications of this be? What related signals of change have you seen?

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