A Wolt courier in Helsinki on Monday, 24 April 2023. Helsingin Sanomat on Sunday revealed that Wolt and Foodora do not effectively monitor the circumstances surrounding the renting of courier accounts. Police, the newspaper wrote, have for years ran into cases where accounts have been rented out, at times on backbreaking terms, to people who do not have the necessary permits to work in Finland. (Antti Hämäläinen – Lehtikuva)

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DELIVERY SERVICES Wolt and Foodora have an obligation to address the wrongdoings occurring on their platforms, states Seppo Koskinen, a professor emeritus of labour law at the University of Turku.

“If a system designed by a company facilitates exploitation, the company must use all means at its disposal to monitor and make sure that its system doesn’t facilitate such exploitation,” he said to Helsingin Sanomat on Monday.

His assessment relates to an in-depth article the newspaper published a day earlier. The article revealed that police have for years come across people who are working as delivery couriers without the requisite work and residence permits by renting the account of another courier.

While Wolt and Foodora require that their account owners are at least 18 years of age and have the right to work in Finland, they neither monitor account renting nor intervene in the commissions charged by owners renting out accounts – a practice both platforms allow. Many owners marketing their accounts on social media are demanding a commission of 30 per cent of the earnings, according to Helsingin Sanomat.

A Wolt spokesperson reminded the newspaper that the company considers couriers entrepreneurs, who have the statutory right to use a substitute.

Helsingin Sanomat wrote that both companies are apparently reluctant to ramp up monitoring due to concern that it could be cited as evidence that couriers are employees rather than entrepreneurs, a determination that would increase their obligations toward couriers. The Regional State Administrative Agency for Southern Finland in 2021 ruled that Wolt’s couriers are effectively employees but the ruling that has been challenged by the service provider.

Koskinen on Monday stated that he was surprised to learn how commonly accounts are rented out and how little the platform providers are doing to monitor the problems possibly associated with the practice.

“I dare say that if you’ve arranged work for people in such a vulnerable position in such a flimsy way, the threat of wrongdoing and actual wrongdoings are likely,” he commented.

The phenomenon of people in a better position renting out their accounts to those in weaker positions – that is, without the necessary permits – has human trafficking-like characteristics, according to Koskinen. While authorities should monitor the operations more closely than currently, the primary responsibility for monitoring falls on the platform providers.

“If a system makes such extortion possible, it’s the fault of the system’s creator. The monitoring of a company that intervenes in this doesn’t constitute employee monitoring but legality monitoring of the system – [it’s about] making sure these kinds of exploitative features, extortion and in some cases even human trafficking aren’t entrenched there,” he said.

He also recognised the concern about the judicial risks of additional monitoring; insufficient monitoring, though, gives rise to other kinds of risks.

“You could say that it’s a crime risk if you set up a system within which something like this is likely to happen,” he stated. “As I said,  the system’s creator is responsible. You can’t simply argue that those operating in the system are acting like this. You’ve created it and provided them this kind of an opportunity to exploit.”

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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