It’ll soon be Labour Day, which means the world will soon turn its attention to workers and labourers around the globe.
While the tech industry isn’t typically known for its political or labour advocacy work this year has seen it step up. Over the years, it’s intentionally stayed out of politics — and for good reason too. For many tech firms whose products are used by large swaths of people around the world taking “sides” could alienate potential users.
However, in recent years that’s all started to change. The last U.S. election and rising inequalities is pushing tech hubs around the world to grow up.
So why now? Tech startups and the workers they employ are increasingly asking – and in some cases even demanding – more action.
In most cases, corporate action can be traced back to one source: consumers.
It’s the one group that not even the highest executives, founders or shareholders can afford to ignore.
“In an industry that has developed a hardened reputation for avoiding politics it’s not only a sign of growth but an understanding of the greater role tech plays in day-to-day society,” explains Sean Mullin, the executive director at the Brookfield Institute, about the influence consumers are having on tech advocacy.
Nowhere is this better exemplified than in 2017’s Uber debacle. The powerful #DeleteUber hashtag first made its way onto Twitter months before it picked up steam on Jan. 27, but once concerned users noticed it they sent it trending.
The outrage stemmed from the ride-hailing company’s decision to suspended its surge pricing after local NYC taxis protested President Trump’s executive order banning people from Muslim-majority countries. Uber’s response was seen by many as a way for it to profit off of the strike; something consumers weren’t happy about and has cost the company dearly.
Since the strike, Uber has lost approximately 200,00 users while its main competitor, Lyft, saw its app downloads peak almost overnight. Of course, it didn’t hurt that Lyft also pledged $1 million to fight discrimination — proof that advocacy can boost a company’s bottom line.
And, that’s not all. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan have seen their profile grow since they launched their own foundation in 2015. Meanwhile PayPal, IBM and Microsoft recently pledged to increase pay for their workers and donate money to immigration-related causes after quitting the president’s business advisory council earlier this month.
For many experts, a change in the way tech companies advocate for the disenfranchised isn’t surprising and a little overdue.
“The lid is lifting,” Shahid Buttar, the director of grassroots advocacy at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told the LA Times. “Comfortable people in tech are waking up. It’s easy to be aware when you’re uncomfortable; a lot of people have lost their comfort and their complacency.”
One of the most prominent examples of how startups are even joining forces and working together to enact change can be seen in the 2017 industry-wide protest against new net neutrality laws.
Dozens of companies — both big and small — and advocacy groups like Fight for the Future and Demand Progress campaigned to prevent the FCC from overturning rules that decide what sites the average person can access online.
Closer to home Canadian startups have championed the recently launched Start-up Visa program which gives newcomers an easier path to permanent residency.