Drawing on the case of the recent Belgian law on the “sharing economy,” this chapter develops a critique of the dominant discourse of platform-mediated work as fostering the inclusion of individuals belonging to historically underrepresented groups (e.g., women with caring roles, people living in remote areas, individuals with disabilities, etc.) into the labor market. Exempting platform-mediated employment from social contributions and substantially lowering taxation, the law facilitates platform-based crowdsourcing firms’ predatory business model of capital valorization. The author argues that this business model rests precisely on the externalization of the costs of the social reproduction of this “diverse” labor through its precarization. These costs are not only externalized to individual workers, as often held. They are also externalized to the Belgian welfare state, and thus ultimately both to taxpayers and firms operating through classical business models, which fund the welfare state through taxation and social security contributions. For this reason, the debate surrounding platform-based employment might paradoxically provide a historical opportunity for recovering the Belgian tradition of social dialog between employers’ associations and trade unions. The author concludes by identifying key foci for action to ensure a better protection of workers of crowdsourcing firms including classifying them as employees, revising the conditions of access to social security protection, inclusive union strategies, the leveraging of technology to enforce firm compliance, and fostering counter-narratives of firms’ accountability toward society.
I would like to thank the reviewers, the editors Steven Vallas and Anne Kovalainen, and my colleagues from SEIN – Identity, Diversity & Inequality Research and Marco Rocca at Hasselt University for their constructive feedback on earlier drafts of the manuscript. The core ideas were presented at the seminar “Between Capital and the State: Autonomous Workers, the Platform Economy, and the Challenge of Labor Regulation” held at KUL Leuven/CESO on 21 February 2018 as part of Steven Vallas’s International Francqui Chair 2017-2018.
This work was supported by the Flemish Fund for Scientific Research, Belgium [FWO grant number G085119N].
Zanoni, P. (2019), "Labor Market Inclusion Through Predatory Capitalism? The “Sharing Economy,” Diversity, and the Crisis of Social Reproduction in the Belgian Coordinated Market Economy*", Vallas, S.P. and Kovalainen, A. (Ed.) Work and Labor in the Digital Age (Research in the Sociology of Work, Vol. 33), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 145-164. https://doi.org/10.1108/S0277-283320190000033009
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