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Who is Behind the Digital Labour Platform? The Opportunities and Challenges in the Global South



Key Takeaway Summary:


1.     Digital Labor Platform Benefits:



  •        Provides flexibility and freedom, especially during global challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic.

  •        Offers significant earning potential and creative opportunities for the youth in the Global South.

  •        Acts as a lifeline for individuals in economically challenging regions, serving as a crucial income source.


      Challenges and Risks:



  •        Lack of concrete data to support claims of job creation and quality improvement.

  •        Material challenges, such as limited technology and power grid support, contradict the promise of global accessibility.

  •        The instability of digital work environments in the Global South, dependent on more developed countries, poses challenges for workers.

  •        Limited control over platform job resources in the Global South, with digital jobs primarily provided by developed nations.

  •        Potential for employer exploitation, as low labour costs may be leveraged for greater profits, leading to interest conflicts with workers. 


      Recommendations and Considerations: 



  •        Governments in the Global South should focus not only on job generation but also on creating good-quality jobs.

  •        Careful consideration of the social and economic implications of digital labour platforms is necessary.

  •        Addressing infrastructure limitations and promoting inclusivity in digital work environments is crucial.


In summary, while digital labour platforms bring valuable opportunities, there is a need for a nuanced understanding of their impact, addressing challenges to ensure equitable benefits and quality employment in the Global South.


Digital Global Development



Introduction:


Unemployment is a major social and economic concern for policymakers, workers, and job seekers, and youth unemployment, as it implies long-term economic problems which bring a negative impact on the stability of state government, is particularly important.


However, the situation of low youth unemployment rates is prominent in certain parts of the world. According to the data from the World Bank, the unemployment youth rate reached 17.9% in 2021 (See Figure 1), and 23 of the 34 countries with youth unemployment rates of 30% are from the Global South, accounting for about 68%.


Figure 1: Unemployment, youth total (% of the total labour force ages 15-24) (modelled ILO estimate)


To understand what role digital platforms are playing in the Global South, we evaluate, on the one hand, how digital platforms have brought more jobs to young people in the Global South; on the other hand, it demonstrates that many challenges and risks remain to be addressed. By analysing the benefits and drawbacks of digital platforms for labour, we ask who are the real beneficiaries of online platform jobs in the Global South. 


 


The Opportunity Brought by Digital Labour Platforms


Certainly, digital labour platform has its advantage. It has long been promoted as bringing more freedom and flexibility. The concept of "work from home" has been adopted by companies of different sizes all over the world, especially with the threat posed by COVID-19, where people can work from different locations. With a computer and an internet connection, more work can be delivered to the southern areas that do not have lush business opportunities. According to a survey done by Insight2impact 2019, an estimated 4.8 million African workers reported making earnings from gig work. For young people in the South, gig work is disruptive and creative, as it offers significant earning potential for those who can successfully navigate the platform. Online employment presents a low-barrier chance for African youth to generate income while enhancing their skills and gaining exposure in the digital workplace.


Moreover, digital platforms and related works are also considered a lifeline for many people. Digital labour platforms serve as an important income source for people in Venezuela and South America. Many people are drawn to work on online platforms because they give people the promise to have financial income and provide for their basic requirements. Under the environment with the economic crisis and hyperinflation, digital platforms can help to reduce the burden of the labour market.


In summary, the advantages of digital labour platforms vary. It emphasizes the freedom and flexibility they offer, which became even more crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic. The "work from home" concept gained popularity globally, allowing people to work from various locations. The potential of digital platforms is highlighted in Southern regions, where business opportunities may be limited. A survey by Insight2impact in 2019 revealed that 4.8 million African workers engaged in gig work, providing income and creative opportunities for the youth. The digital workplace is seen as a low-barrier entry for African youth to earn income, enhance skills, and gain exposure.


 


The Potential Risks Digital Labour Platform is Bringing


However, there is not much concrete data to back up the assertions and promises of bringing more jobs with the digital platform. The big challenge for the governments of most African countries is not just to generate jobs but good quality jobs.  Various parts of the world are facing material challenges such as a lack of advanced technology and a power grid for support, which shows an irony contradictory to the advertisement that works can be delivered from anywhere in the world by anyone with a computer and an internet connection.


Meanwhile, the digital work environment in the Global South is not stable for workers, as it is greatly dependent on other developed countries. Platform workers in Venezuela face geopolitical and regulatory challenges in their daily work. South Africa, on the other hand, has initiated various programs to attract foreign investment in platforms, which has become reasonably competitive compared to locations such as the Philippines and India for entry-level work. In this context, it is noteworthy that digital jobs are mostly provided by “other” more developed countries, and the global South has little control over platform job resources.


Indeed, the ILO  2021 also states that online platforms can be of great benefit to employers as they are “good for recruitment, innovation, cost-reduction and efficiency”. Despite providing working opportunities for the Global South, employers are more likely to take advantage of the low labour costs for their own greater profits, which might bring interest conflicts to the workers. 


In examining the promises and assertions of digital labour platforms, it becomes evident that challenges and risks are associated with their implementation, particularly in the Global South. Despite the widespread advertisement of these platforms bringing more jobs, there is a lack of concrete data supporting such claims. The primary concern highlighted by studies is not just job generation but the quality of jobs created, emphasizing the need for governments in the Global South to focus on providing good-quality employment opportunities.


The material challenges faced by various regions, including a lack of advanced technology and power grid support, present an ironic contradiction to the notion that work can be delivered from anywhere with a computer and an internet connection. This challenges the inclusivity and accessibility of digital work environments in areas with infrastructure limitations.


Moreover, the dependence of the digital work environment in the Global South on developed countries raises stability concerns for workers. Geopolitical and regulatory challenges, as faced by platform workers in Venezuela, add an additional layer of complexity to daily work. South Africa's efforts to attract foreign investment in platforms underscore the competitive landscape for digital jobs, indicating that these opportunities are often provided by more developed countries, leaving the Global South with limited control over platform job resources.


While online platforms are acknowledged for their benefits in terms of recruitment, innovation, cost reduction, and efficiency, the International Labour Organization (ILO) notes that employers may exploit the low labour costs in the Global South for greater profits. This potential exploitation introduces interest conflicts between employers and workers, highlighting a need for careful consideration of the social and economic implications of digital labour platforms in the Global South.


 


Conclusion


As demonstrated above, the digital platform helps reduce the unemployment rate, not only for the youth but also generally in the Global South, as it has provided more entry-level-job opportunities with simple facilitate requirements. For many people, the platform job is reckoned as a basic lifeline during the economic depression and when facing the risk of the Covid-19 pandemic.


However, the opportunity does not outweigh the challenges. Regardless of the job it brought, it is notable that the South workers are facing material challenges and problems such as geopolitical instability. By articulating that most of the digital platforms' labour resources are dominated by more developed countries, this essay suggests that certain risks the global South is facing are originally from the uneven distribution of resources. Based on this, we question who benefits the most from digital platforms, and how much the digital labour platform contributes to the development of the Global South. 


 


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Tags: #gigwork; #digitalgap #gigworker; #DigitalLabour; #GlobalSouth; #DigitalGlobalDevelopment;



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