The Gig Is Rigged: How Gig Companies Exploit Private Law to Entrench Power

Agnieszka McPeak - Gonzaga University School of Law
Vol. 57
April 2024
Page 2235

The modern gig economy is built on a platform of exploitation — of regulatory gaps, liability shields, and, fundamentally, people. Most obviously, gig companies have dismantled traditional worker classifications, which disproportionately impacts vulnerable populations and has ripple effects in several areas of law. And, as the gig economy embraces artificial intelligence and automation, its negative social and economic impacts become even more pronounced. 

But gig companies do not confine their strategies to one doctrinal area of law; they instead harness myriad liability-limiting tactics that reallocate risk and shirk liability across the board. Because of this, the gig economy is best viewed through the lens of law-and-political-economy scholarship, which strives to unearth the ways siloed legal systems, regulations, and policies work together to perpetuate power imbalance and structural inequality. 

This Article synthesizes the approaches gig companies take to reallocate risk and limit liability in multiple private-law arenas — including employment, corporate, and tort law — while also identifying new risks of harms and highlighting structural inequality. As a primary example, it analyzes Amazon Flex and Amazon Delivery Service Partners, two programs that rely on a web of small businesses and gig drivers for making deliveries. More broadly, this Article considers how gig companies employ technology and digital surveillance to control workers and entrench power. Finally, through a law-and-political-economy framework, this Article argues that proposed solutions must look broadly at the totality of liability-limiting tools deployed across private law so that we can achieve greater fairness and break down structural inequality.

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