Recent leaked data alleges that Uber knowingly exploited and endangered its drivers in South Africa in order to make a profit. The information has come to light thanks to The Uber Files, a global investigation into the request-a-ride company that originated in San Francisco.
The Uber Files consists of about 124 000 documents that were leaked to the Guardian, and includes emails, iMessages and WhatsApp exchanges between the company’s most senior executives, as well as memos, presentations, notebooks, briefing papers and invoices. The documents span over a period of four years between 2013 and 2017.
The data implies that Uber consciously put its South African drivers at risk while pursuing a profit in Johannesburg and Cape Town. The Guardian described Uber’s actions as “the ethically questionable practices that fuelled the company’s transformation into one of Silicon Valley’s most famous exports”.
It started with Uber seemingly lobbying for drivers’ safety as they argued that the South African government “should ban cash payment for taxis“, but two years later they themselves implemented cash payments for their own service. Furthermore, data shows that Uber was well aware that cash payments would put their drivers at risk of being robbed.
Some leaked messages implies that Uber was prepared to willingly “take advantage of violent disruption to make money, while others show executives joking about acting in an illegal fashion”, as reported by Business Insider.
“In public, Uber repeated a message that its service empowered people to become ‘entrepreneurs’,” wrote the Washington Post’s Douglas MacMillan on Monday. “In private email exchanges, company officials referred to drivers as a mass of ‘supply’ whose low pay and minimal job protections were necessary for Uber to profit.”
Documents within the Uber Files indicate that Uber started to turn a profit surpisingly quickly in South Africa – profits that were helped along by the company’s disregard for its drivers safety.
Uber started to turn a profit in both Cape Town and Johannesburg within two years of its launch. Leaked data shows that Uber saw profits quickly due to an increase in their commission from 20% to 25%, despite objections from regional and local managers who argued that the increase would be harmful to drivers.
Uber also got rid of most subsidies for drivers in South Africa by the end of 2015 after initially offering cash incentives for drivers to sign up.
According to Business Insider, the Competition Commission said in 2020 that Uber had withdrawn incentives it had offered drivers when it entered the South African market. Further claims were made that suggested some of its drivers were earning less than minimum wage, but Uber disputed the claims and calculations used in the allegations.
Uber South Africa has not yet made any public statement or comment on the allegedly leaked files, or reports made by The Guardian or Business Insider.