China and Inner Asia

Organized Panel Session

3 - Offering Food and Offering Dreams? The App Economy and Food Delivery in China

Saturday, July 7
2:40 PM - 4:10 PM
Location: Maple, Lower Ground Floor

The internet economy has become a growth engine in China and the world. China’s infrastructure programs such as mobile communications and electronic payment systems have greatly facilitated the development of e-commerce. Within a few years, online food delivery has experienced startling growth with 166 billion RMB in annual revenue while creating over 3 million meal delivery jobs. Many of the app-based food delivery newcomers recently changed from minimum-wage factory and service jobs to try their luck in the higher income sector propelled by expanding choice and convenience in food consumption. But how does the government regulate the marketplace of online meal delivery? How do outsourced meal delivery workers of dominant players such as Ele.me (which has acquired Baidu) and Meituan protect their labor rights? Are their dreams of making more money and enjoying greater freedom at work fulfilling? By using a mixed research method of questionnaire surveys and in-depth interviews, this paper analyzes the changing labor relations of the digitally mediated food delivery sector in first-tier high-spending Beijing city. It engages the literature of contingent labor, flexible scheduling, and algorithmic control of delivery work process. Above all, it aims to inform and mobilize both workers and the official trade union federation to improve the labor conditions of part-time and full-time food delivery workers. 

Shuwan Zhang

Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, China

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