The exploitation of cheap labor, a necessity ?

It took me a while to figure out a title for this article. The past year has put into the spotlights the way our society is relying on cheap labor, often foreign workers, sometimes illegally working in the country . Covid crisis, migrating crisis and also Brexit have shown the great need of this labor to assure the continuity of supply chain, from the farm to our fridge, from the restaurant to our table. We rely on all these individuals, which are invisible to us or that we just prefer to ignore. If tomorrow, cheap labor was striking worldwide, probably all existing services would be affected.

From call centers to bike riders, from strawberry and grape pickers to kitchen staffers, from industrial butchers to janitors…

There has been a bunch of recent articles in the newspapers, pointing out that millions of American workers are quitting their low paid jobs, that British post-Brexit immigration ‘s policy has conducted in the shortage of poultry workers, that illegal workers are demonstrating in France for the right to have contracts.

USA

Truth is, wages aren’t keeping up with surging prices and low-wage jobs often lack opportunities for career growth. With the ongoing inflation, post Covid, prices are going up and low paid workers are suffering from the increased bills. Workers are discouraged, more keen to change jobs or put pressure on their employers. This would be the US situation, probably a little different than the one we have in Europe. But US labor shortage might be also influenced by the Trump era efforts to reduce the number of immigrants crossing the border. We can probably isolate US workers into two categories, on one side workers constituting the low wage, entry-level jobs workers and on the other side the immigrants workers.

Some workers have totally switched professions, waiters for example who were not able to work during the crisis, and who in most cases where left with no rights because they were on short contracts, had no choices but to change industry to survive. Most of them discovered more stable jobs, with stable pay, no wonder why they won’t come back today to their previous jobs. This situation can apply to UK, US, and France. In those three countries, situation has been almost the same, despite the financial help to restaurants or bar in France, those workers were very often not qualifying for the same help.

UK

I must admit, I am a bit amused to read the UK newspapers, every day there are new shortages, where they somehow discover that their – so much hatred EU-workers – were in fact a necessity to assuring the running of their local industry. From Polish workers coming to work before Christmas in their meat industry, to Spanish nurses working at the NHS and French waiters working in their London restaurants. They are still entangled in their gas shortage, only because they don’t have enough truck drivers to drive the tanker lorries from the oil plant to the gas station… British were accused in 2020 of modern slavery, it emerged garment workers at factories in Leicester, UK were being paid just £3.50 an hour. It was the tip of the iceberg, later authorities found out that there was a widespread exploitation of illegal workers in the city of Leicester. A study revealed that across Britain there are at least 100,000 slaves.

“But this type of exploitation – people being paid well under the minimum wage, having to work in unacceptable conditions – that sort of abuse has to be stamped out, it has to be examined, we have to follow the evidence and prosecute wherever possible.”

UK Justice Secretary Robert Buckland

Poor regulation and poor legislation helped this situation for years, somehow the British managed to replicate the working conditions that exists in Bangladesh directly inside the kingdom.

France

France has been for years using cheap illegal workers. It is estimated in 2021, that 400 000 illegal workers are currently working and living in France. Personally I don’t know any of them but I can only imagine I, in fact, see them every other day. I would say that 99% of the time, when you order food on Uber or Deliveroo, riders will be illegal workers. Often renting the right to work … to a legal worker owning the account. Platforms will pretend they do it all legally, that they verified their worker’s permits, but in the end the riders are not the one that signed for the job. I remember when Deliveroo started to operate in Paris, most riders were French students or young workers, at least you could tell that the guy on the picture was the one delivering food to you on their bike. Nowadays, this guy -who use to deliver food on his bike – became the boss of a little business, renting his access to the platform to one or more illegal workers. The most resourceful ones will somehow have enough to money to use motorbikes, the poorest one will end up using one of the city’s shared bike. Given the regulations in France, I am often not so sure if employers who are using illegal workers are doing it because they want cheap labor or only because they could not find any legal worker to do the job with the wage they can offer/ afford. You must take into account that the cost of labor in France is huge, for example let’s say you have an employee with a salary of €2500, between the taxes and everything the total cost for the company is at least €4000.

In the last few companies I have been working for, I have observed a big trend among labor and the way companies would reduce their costs.
The most visible trend on the job market today is the constant levelling-down of all kind of jobs within a company, in order to make them available to entry-level workers, hence low paid ones. Only general management would be the one taking on more responsibilities, being the winners of this new system. In a way, applying Fordism to the service industry.

The great Replacement


I think nowadays we are only at the early stage of what I would call the great Replacement. Simplifying jobs makes them more easy to being done by machines. We are only at early stages of an Artificial Intelligence able to take on all entry level task like answering to customers. I am currently learning myself Python and show a great interest into Livechat’s bots technology, able to understand, solve and answer to customer automatically. I have been following the evolution of Neon the N26 Bots operating on their in-app livechat, so far there has been only a few improvements, and we are far from having a great quality AI. Google has made great improvement on its own AI, progressing in machine learning and ability of the system to communicate like human on the phone.

I think nowadays we are only at the early stage of what I would call the great Replacement.

Once AI bots will reach the same level as human worker, you can bet they will replace all customer services, if companies are willing to pay the price for the expensive licences. But what is a fixed cost compared to an army of low-paid workers, humans that can not work H24, can be sick, have a life.
The only two reasons why machines have not yet replace workers in most cases are the fact this is an expensive technology and that AI is not yet perfect.
The best example I can thing about is why dishwashers are not selling well on the Chinese market. Most households have Ayi (maids), who are less costly overall than buying home appliances given again the poor regulation and poor salaries. But with the overall wages increasing in China, it will likely become a great market in the future.

What then ?

The question is, in a future where AI and machines can do all entry level tasks workers could do, what will those workers end up doing. I guess we will have to choices, either considering that human is not made to work his whole life, and we will end up spending more time enjoying art and culture. This vision is romantic and only a deep change of the capitalist system would allow it, where a rich life would not be measured by profits and money but by culture and knowledge, or research.
Or we will end up in a World like in the movies ” In Time “or “Elysium” where you have super rich and super poor but no in between.

Reaching my thirties

OMG Where to start ? I have been deflecting all the questions regarding my birthday, avoiding conversations and questions about what I should do on that particular day. Today marks a one month countdown to my birthday and I started to realize it was coming fast. 😄

To be honest, I have never been better. I feel good, confident, I have projects and goals, I am in love too. 🥰 If you had asked me the same question like – a year ago – it would have been totally different.
The past year has been an amazing improvement and I could not thank enough the people who guided me along the way. I am getting emotional to rethink about this in fact. 🥲
I learned to live my emotions, to sense them.
It might seem a little hard to understand or to explain, it’s very subtle. I learned to tell what was on my mind instead of keeping it. I think in a way I became more of an adult. You might think it’s a little late but I somehow never understood that I was not being totally myself before last year.

Of course I wished I had done this whole work before, but I think all paths are different and some matters take time. I guess I was not helped from where I come from, my family would not qualify as very helpful in non-concrete situations or things of the Life, however I know they would have liked to understand it better. I come from a family where silence wins over truth/reality because those subjects might make us uncomfortable.

I won’t miss my 20s, I would say those 10 years were rich in amazingly difficult situations, permanent doubt and questioning, feeling lost most of the time, pretending that everything is fine when it’s crap. Those years were like crossing Tanzania on a dirt and muddy road, with an old truck. A bit like in the TV show relating the nightmare of being a truck driver in Congo. (Youtube Link)
Oh yes I have learned a lot, and nothing scares me I have to say. I learned to plan and anticipate all kinds of situations.
I also had my good share of laughs, travel, relationships, parties. I made friends for life all around the globe. I could make a website dedicated to all the crazy situations I clumsily put myself into 😇.

Today, I am still not quite sure where and with whom I will celebrate my 30s, but I am confident that I will make something for my 31st 🥳. Any idea is welcome in the comments below.

The dark side of Q-Commerce.

The dark side of Q-Commerce. Too much instantaneity in our daily lives ?

It got me wondered, all those new delivery services, relying on dark stores or dark kitchens, delivering us food and goods in less than 15 minutes; is it really the future we want to live in ? Think about it, do we really want to live in a world where everything is instant ? Is it a bad habit ? Are we leaving the kid’s dream of desiring something and getting everything right away ?

I had this reflexion while ordering my coffee today, since it’s the beginning of the university year most new employees are student who are learning how to make coffees, hence it takes more time than the usually – learning takes time – . I felt that I was impatient and that it was not like usual, which made me wonder if I was getting too used to having everything very quickly. 🧐

You probably noticed, given the crazy amount of money these companies spent in marketing their products, that a bunch of Q-commerce (quick commerce) businesses are competing at the moment. Flink, Gorillaz and many others are racing to be the “on-demande delivery” or “e-grocery” kings. The ones that will bring to you, an any time of the day, that liter of orange juice you are missing, that piece of cheese you need for a late snack, that bottle of wine you need for a last-minute date. Instead of going out to your local little store still open late or at night, you can just click and order.
Q-commerce is making it’s money on the fact we are just lazy urban people. Because it is necessary to specify that these services concern only the big cities, they could not be profitable on less dense or too extended geographical zones.

Maybe I am not seeing the incredible potential here of the quick delivery business ? I think that my assumptions are based on the fact that I myself worked in a delivery company.
Deliveroo for example, created in 2013, has been losing money since then, and lost $309 million in 2020 while its revenues climbed to $5,64 billion.

The only two things in my opinion that are profitable in this type of business are :

  1. dark kitchens, own by the company itself, which are highly efficient production units without a storefront that are optimized for delivery, selling only via delivery.
  2. selling marketing services to their restaurants/partners

Even though they take about 30% on each orders make into the “normal” restaurants, this revenue is not enough for them to stop losing money. The main problem for these companies is that they have to spent gigantic amount of money on marketing to customers.

With Q-commerce, it’s not about dark kitchens anymore but about dark stores which would qualify has strategically located warehouses, in this case, in the very center of the city. Dark stores allows them the maximum agility and flexibility in order to deliver as quick as possible.

I have many concerns about the impact of these structures on the rest of the convenience stores. Are we going to assist to witness the death of these stores ? I mean, dark stores are no fun, and I recently read an article about a little supermarket in the very center of Paris who became a dark store, meaning a warehouse bad-looking unfriendly place, dark here takes on its full meaning. Are our city and town centers going to look like industrial zones ? A bit like what it was in fact looking alike during the big lockdowns of the covid crisis.

We have seen huge amounts recently invested in those quick delivery companies. Flink itself raised $240 millions last. For Paris itself, given the fact that many stores in the center closed during the covid crisis, I really think they will use this opportunity to buy a bunch of these places. I wonder how locals will react to these new-born stores that they can’t physically access ?

We could already witness the impact of Amazon on local small retail businesses, closing one by one when the owners retire. I do agree that this type of business have missed the opportunity to go online until now, relying on their loyal customers, and in fact, the covid crisis had a real positive impact in the profound changes that these companies must consider in their way of doing business. I think, for example that they could definitely keep their stores and either become Amazon sellers (or opening their own online shops) and therefore becoming themselves little “sort of” warehouses in the city centers.

Still, I wonder how these companies will end up making money. We can already guess the future here : the most successful ones will either buy the other ones or make them drown in the long run. Then giants like Amazon will probably buy them back. In my opinion, only a giant dominating the industry can make profits with its large scale.

There has been a few articles recently in the news regarding the possible soon end of the era of supermarkets, hypermarkets.

Has the hypermarket model had its day? This revolutionary concept of “everything under one roof”, popularized in 1963 by Carrefour, has conquered the whole world. Today, however, the French pioneer, like its competitors, is down on one knee. The crisis of gigantism, associated with the dehumanization of commerce and over-consumption, is the main cause. According to experts, the omnipotence of certain groups will be threatened within ten years. From now on, the whole sector is trying to save what can be saved, even if it means resorting to practices bordering on legality.

https://www.arte.tv/fr/videos/095178-000-A/hypermarches-la-chute-de-l-empire/

Three years after buying Whole Foods for $13 billion, Amazon has already launched its own brand, Amazon Fresh. This year they opened one of the first Amazon fresh stores in London. In France, Amazon already holds 10% of the consumer goods market.

I think we really must ask ourselves about the dehumanization of commerce and over-consumption. Also we must worry about our selfie-obsessed generation, where we always want to look happier than the rest of our peers on Instagram. Writing this article I am not sure I can make the link between these different concepts right away but I have the feeling there is more to it, that Instagram and social networks have largely contributed to the fact we are quite comfortable with the concept of dehumanization and that the extreme narcissistic society we live in is well connected with over-consumption.

To be continued…