Fair Labor in the Digitized Economy focuses on how society can ensure fair labor conditions while transitioning into a fully digitized economy.
As new technologies develop, altering forms of collaboration between people and machines, many claim that these advances will trigger an era of accelerated innovation and disruption, comparable to the industrial revolution. Already, the concepts of work, labor, and employment are evolving and organizations across the industrial spectrum are reflecting this new reality. Some are quick to celebrate the new opportunities which come with technological changes, whereas others staunchly resist the advance of job-destroying robots.
Critics have argued that digital labor constitutes a modern form of exploitation because it undervalues human labor, denies basic worker protections, and disenfranchises workers from the final product due to increased task fragmentation. By contrast, optimistic theorists stress that digital labor is a means of worker empowerment. In such a shifting labor landscape, many questions have arisen with regard to how society wants to evolve into hosting a fully digitized economy. In particular, questions have arisen with regard to how fair labor conditions can be maintained and promoted.
In order to ensure a fair digital economy, it is vitally important to conduct in-depth empirical research into current and developing trends, focusing on both a regional and global scale. In this project, we provide a balanced voice in this discourse, contributing detailed empirical evidence and applicable knowledge. In the last years, we have focused our research efforts towards key topics within the topic of digital labor, aiming to unpack issues of inequality, fairness, and work quality.
Due to the prominence of sharing and on-demand platforms within the digital economy, we have conducted extensive research on this topic, both internally and with international colleagues, such as at Copenhagen Business School and the University of Leipzig. We have published several papers in leading academic journals and have edited a special issue in the Journal of Business Ethics on corporate social responsibility in the sharing economy.
A second key focus of research has been practices of remote work on virtual tasks, including both crowdwork and traditional workplaces. Together with our colleagues from the universities of Rotterdam and Ljubljana, we are editing a special issue of the Human Resource Management Review on the future of labor and human relations. So far, we have also published several articles.
We have also researched access to digital labor, in terms of the skills and pre-conditions necessary to participate online. In this strand of research, we have been collaborating intensively with the University of Leipzig, and the University of Oxford (Oxford Internet Institute). As a result of this international collaboration, several articles in high-ranking journals have emerged.
With our colleagues at Harvard University, we have developed an additional research stream on youth, media, and the economy, focusing on the blurred boundaries between work, play, and hobbies. As a result of this collaboration, we are in the process of publishing our first set of working papers and have developed outreach opportunities, for instance at the Internet Governance Forum.
Our cross-disciplinary research helped in forming a cohesive picture of the wider fair labor debates, enabling a clearer understanding of the complex and developing phenomena which pertain to the Internet and its impact on the labor landscape. Within management research, our research project was one of the earliest to address new types of work, and was instrumental to institutionalize at least two areas of enquiry. First, on the sharing or more exactly the platform economy, where the groups publications were among the earliest in the management field, and who also led to a special issue in the prestigious Journal of Business Ethics, the first one on the platform economy in the CSR field. In careers research, the project helped established a new research stream on non-traditional careers in online labor markets, here likewise, our research group was one the first and published a special issue in one of the leading HR theory journals, the Human Resource Management Review.
New technologies both facilitate the substitution of human work, but also allow for the emergence of new forms of labor. Many of these newly created employment opportunities are in one way or the other enabled through digital technologies. Often, they outsource traditional knowledge, service and creative work to crowds of online workers, creating unique working conditions characterized by a dispersed, anonymous and fluid workforce. With technology substituting many more traditional working arrangements and new forms of employment emerging in virtual organizations, observers worry that, without deliberation on desirable working modes, the future will see severely disadvantaged workers, repressed wages, deteriorated working conditions and the emergence of a new cyber-precariat.
At the same time, the characteristics of digitized labor call into question findings established in the research of the corporate responsibilities that traditional organizations have for their employees, with large portions of the former workforce now outside of the traditional nexus of the firm, but still dependent on organizational actors.
With our proposed research, we are interested in technology's effect on good labor in terms of what trends are shaping future labor markets, what constitutes desirable forms of labor, and whether any corporate social responsibilities could be derived to accommodate good forms of work in an increasingly digital labor market. Overall, our proposed research project is interested in whether there is such a thing as new precarious employment emerging in the digital space. Our hope with this research is to bring a new technology-driven perspective to workers' rights and business ethics research while remaining sensitive to corporate necessities.