A vast investigation accuses Uber of brutal or even illegal methods in its infancy

A vast investigation accuses Uber of brutal or even illegal methods in its infancy

The Uber platform found itself immersed in its tumultuous past on Sunday because of an extensive investigation by journalists accusing the company of having “broken the law” and used brutal methods to impose itself despite the reluctance of politicians and officials. taxi companies.

“We have not justified and do not make excuses for behavior that is inconsistent with our current values ​​as a company,” said Jill Hazelbaker, Uber’s vice president of public affairs, in a statement. an online press release.

“We ask the public to judge us on what we have done in the past five years and what we will do in the years to come,” she added.

Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick on December 10, 2013 (AFP/Archives – Eric PIERMONT)

The Guardian, a British daily, obtained and shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) some 124,000 documents, dated from 2013 to 2017, including emails and messages from Uber executives at the time, as well as presentations, notes and invoices.

On Sunday, several news organizations (including the Washington Post, Le Monde and the BBC) published their first articles from these “Uber Files”.

They highlight certain practices of Uber during these years of rapid expansion but also of confrontation, from Paris to Johannesburg.

“The company has broken the law, deceived police and regulators, exploited violence against drivers and secretly lobbied governments around the world,” the Guardian said in its introduction.

– “Circuit breaker” –

The articles mention in particular messages from Travis Kalanick, then boss of the San Francisco-based company, when executives worried about the risks for the drivers whom Uber encouraged to participate in a demonstration in Paris.

“I think it’s worth it,” the co-founder told them. “Violence guarantees success”.

According to the Guardian, Uber has adopted similar tactics in various European countries (Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, etc.), mobilizing drivers and encouraging them to complain to the police when they are victims of attacks, in order to use media coverage to obtain concessions from authorities.

Demonstration by drivers outside the headquarters of Uber and Lyft in New York on May 8, 2019 (AFP/Archives - Johannes EISELE)
Demonstration by drivers outside the headquarters of Uber and Lyft in New York on May 8, 2019 (AFP/Archives – Johannes EISELE)

“Mr. Kalanick has never suggested that Uber exploits violence at the expense of driver safety,” reacted Devon Spurgeon, spokesperson for the controversial former leader, in a statement published by the ICIJ.

Accused of having encouraged questionable and brutal managerial practices, against a background of sexism and harassment at work, Mr. Kalanick had to give up his role as general manager of the group in June 2017.

Announcing his resignation from the board of directors at the end of 2019, he said he was “proud of everything Uber has accomplished”.

His spokesman on Sunday refuted all the accusations from the newspapers, including that of obstruction of justice.

According to the daily newspapers, Uber had implemented various strategies to thwart attempts to intervene by the police, including that of the “kill switch” which consisted of quickly cutting off access to a group office to the main computer databases, in the event of a search.

– “Outlaw” –

The Guardian cites various excerpts from conversations between executives evoking the absence of a legal framework for their activities.

“Sometimes we have problems because, well, we are absolutely outlaws,” Uber’s global communications director, Nairi Hourdajian, wrote to her colleagues in 2014, when the existence of the platform was threatened in Thailand and India.

Before becoming synonymous with the reservation of passenger cars with driver (VTC), Uber had to fight to be accepted.

The group courted consumers and drivers, and found allies in power, such as Emmanuel Macron, who would have discreetly helped the service when he was economy minister.

But Uber would also have offered shares of the start-up to political figures in Russia and Germany and paid researchers “hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce studies on the merits of its economic model”, always according to the Guardian.

The VTC leader created the gig economy model, replicated by many other start-ups, but it took more than twelve years to generate its first quarterly profit. And the status of drivers, self-employed or employed, remains disputed in many states.

In its Sunday statement, Uber recalls that the media has already covered the company’s pre-2017 “mistakes” extensively, from press to books and even a television series.

“Today, Uber (…) is an integral part of the daily lives of 100 million people”, develops Jill Hazelbaker. “We have moved from an era of confrontation to an era of collaboration”.

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