Gig Economy Project – Damning French Uber Files inquiry finds Uber still has “extremely privileged links” to the state

Report finds that there was a secret “deal” between Uber and Emmanuel Macron in 2015

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Danielle Simonnet, Uber Files inquiry rapporteur and representative of France Insoumise in the National Assembly, addresses a press conference this morning (18/07/2023)

JUST over a year after the Uber Files scandal broke, a French parliamentary inquiry has found that the company still has “extremely privileged links” with the upper echelons of the government and that the scandal has exposed “serious flaws” in how the state relates to private business interests.

The Uber Files was a leak of 124,000 internal documents relating to ride hail and food delivery company’s activities from 2014 to 2017. The files were released by the Californian gig platform’s former chief lobbyist in Europe, Mark MacGann, on 10 July 2022.

They revealed Uber’s close relationship to politicians in many European countries as well as at EU level, but the French revelations were perhaps the most explosive. 

Dozens of previously undisclosed messages showed that Emmanuel Macron, the country’s current president who in 2015 was economy minister in former President Francois Hollande’s government, was helping the company, despite its illegal entry into the French market. This included personally intervening to revise a suspension order on Uber in Marseille after MacGann had texted him asking for help. 

The inquiry was initiated in the French National Assembly, the first chamber, by the left-wing France Insoumise party to get to the bottom of Uber’s entry into the French market and the consequences of this for the country’s economy and society to the present day. 

READ MORE: The #UberFiles: 5 things you need to know

The final report comes to over 500 pages and is based on 67 hearings, with 120 testimonies heard, including Uber’s current CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, MacGann and France’s former prime minister, Manuel Valls, but not Macron. 

It finds that Uber established itself in France through “defiance of legality…by violating the rules on the private transport of people, by adopting a strategy of aggressive tax evasion and optimisation, by resorting to undeclared work, by evading the payment of social security contributions and by knowingly evading the controls of the authorities.”

This was accompanied by “aggressive lobbying” including “penetrating the heart of French elites” by “using very influential investors and public affairs specialists, but also recognised academics, as well as information manipulation tactics and the payment of drivers to participate in staged protests.”

The report confirms the existence of a ‘kill switch’ used to block investigators from accessing Uber’s data.

Uber was able to “find allies at the highest level of the State”, most prominently Macron, who was “ready to defend the interests of the platforms’” and with whom “Uber has maintained extremely privileged links.”

Specifically, the report finds that there was a “deal” between Uber and Macron when he was Economy Minister in 2015, which saw the number of training hours needed to become a private hire (VTC) driver reduced from 250 to seven in return for the removal of the ‘Uber Pop’ service, which allows anyone to be a VTC driver.

Macron was also sent a text message by an Uber member of staff during an official search of the company’s premises by fraud investigators.

MacGann gave money to Macron’s election campaign while still working for Uber as a lobbyist. However, the report found that Macron had not personally benefited from his relationship with Uber nor committed any crimes. 

READ MORE: Uber whistleblower Mark MacGann’s full statement to the European Parliament

The report argues that the “intensity of the contacts between Uber, Emmanuel Macron and his cabinet testifies to an opaque but privileged relationship, and reveals the inability of our system to measure and prevent the influence of private interests on public decision-making.” 

It goes on to say that “serious flaws within the system supposed to prevent conflicts of interest and guarantee the transparency of exchanges between interest representatives and political leaders” have been found, and that these flaws “remain gaping almost ten years after the first facts discovered by these revelations.”

Partly because of this, “public authorities failed in their mission to protect the rule of law by enforcing the rules in force”, the consequences of which “have been harmful for all players in the private public transport sector…not to mention the losses for society as a whole”.

Since Macron has become President, “serious failures by the state to enforce the law remain, offering the platforms a certain impunity.” The lobbying of platforms “is still as intense and the propensity of the Government to listen to the big ones at the expense of the small ones continues.”

Uber has had 34 exchanges with the French President, 83 with the Transport Minister and 26 with the Ministry of Labour from 2018 to 2022, the years after those pertaining to the Uber Files.

Macron defended his actions following the scandal last July, saying that he was “proud” of what he did because of the number of jobs created and that he would “do it again tomorrow and the day after tomorrow”.

However, the report challenges Macron’s narrative about job creation, stating: “Uber’s promises in terms of job creation have not been kept.” Sociologist Sophie Bernard told the inquiry that already precarious workers found more precarity working for Uber. The report also finds that Uber’s model has spread precariousness to other sectors including food delivery and temporary work agencies.

Macron’s ‘social dialogue’ approach to platform work, proposed as an alternative form of social security instead of employment status, is also discredited in the report. 

GEP NEWSLETTER: “France’s ‘social dialogue’ election: a parody of democracy”

Last April, the Social Relations Authority for Employment Platforms (ARPE) was established as a body to arbitrate between the digital labour platforms and elected platform worker representatives following the government’s “social dialogue law”. The Minister of Labour, Elisabeth Borne, appointed Bruno Mettling to head ARPE, but the report reveals that before his appointment an American consultancy firm, AT Kearney, had advised Uber to hire Mettling to work on developing social dialogue between the company and platform workers in France. Mettling has previously defended his links to Uber.

The report makes 47 proposals for reform in total, with 12 “priorities”, including:

-To establish a “rebuttable presumption of employment for platform workers”

– An approval process for the establishment of digital labour platforms “to verify that it complies with all the regulations”

– To strengthen the public bodies “responsible for controlling and sanctioning platforms”

– A system of country-by-country “public reporting” to ensure that platforms “publish key information on the taxes they pay and their activities”

– The regularisation of undocumented platform workers so that they have the legal right-to-work

– To redirect funding for business support “towards law-abiding cooperatives rather than lucrative private platforms”

– A debate and vote in the French Parliament on “the position defended by France relating to the proposal for a European directive aimed at establishing a presumption of employment”

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