Amy Merrick, Walmart’s Future Workforce: Robots and Freelancers, The Atlantic, April 4, 2018
Robots & Freelancers
The Walmart of the future relies more heavily on the gig economy and automation. This is an indication of the fierce competition between Walmart, the world’s largest private employer, and Amazon. A pair of recent studiessuggests that it’s also a sign that the U.S. economy is tilting further toward jobs that give workers less market power.
This shift could be good for workers, in theory, if the flexibility of the gig economy lets them switch more easily between employers to take advantage of higher-paying offers. Yet in their analysis of the online-task marketplace Amazon Mechanical Turk, the researchers find that this isn’t necessarily happening.
Through the WI Lens
Signs abound that most economies, the US in particular, are tilting further towards jobs that give workers less market power. Walmart epitomises this trend: it is raising wages, but its plans to use more gig labor and automation put workers at a disadvantage. In a nutshell, the labour markers are being ‘gig-ified’ with ensuing concern: not about the number of jobs, but whether those jobs can support a reasonable standard of living.
This, in turn, means that the quality of service often becomes sub-optimal with dramatic consequences for consumer centric businesses (most of which are in the hospitality industry). The question for business executives is: how to reconcile profitability with ‘good employment’ that includes, for example, fair remuneration and a sense of purpose? Focusing too much on short-termism by sacrificing workers’ interest for the benefit of the P&L can kill a business in the longer term by putting off customers. Examples abound.
“On such fragile foundations are built the first steps towards a more ethical kind of business, and who knows what virtuous circles might result?”
“Scientific evidence recently emerged that, contrary to earlier beliefs, Covid-19 can be spread by tiny droplets that we breathe out when we respire, called aerosols.”
“Economic wellbeing is part of the story, but it is also about finding less stressful lifestyles, in which healthy diet figures as a meaningful measure of success.”
“The industry has every asset needed to be a guiding light in the shift toward personal health priority. Will that become a prevention legacy, a ‘phoenix rising’ from the Covid-19 ashes?”
“Looking at the bigger picture, putting the measures in this order represents a lost opportunity that the pandemic could have offered for a cultural pivot pivot towards getting people more focused on their health, a powerful statement of intent.”
“Employment is necessary to fulfil our most basic human needs such as food and shelter. Any significant increase in long-term unemployment will spell a retrograde step for human wellbeing like no other.”
“All roads lead to a wellbeing anchor, whether that be economic/financial, physical, mental or emotional: all contribute to a progressive and inclusive cosmopolitan world. The answer should not be a choice of one or the other but of a joined up and compassionate solution for society, business and individuals.”
“The paradox is that we continue to do this in spite of recognising that striving to become ever-more productive is an intrinsically unhealthy behaviour, leading to stress and too often, a sense of failure.”
“The same broad-sweeping structural racism that enables police brutality against black Americans is also responsible for higher mortality among black Americans with Covid-19,” Maimuna Majumder, a Harvard epidemiologist working on the Covid-19 response, tells Vox.
The take-out from this? Wellbeing cannot exist at a more elevated level without our basic needs being met.