• Richie Crowley

The Forgotten Moral Obligation Of The Instacart Ethics Debate

We know using Instacart and other personal shopping services is a privilege, like students accessing online classrooms from remote locations, but we’ve forgotten our moral obligation in the chaos of this conversation.

In a way, using Instacart or other personal shopping services is what we need to do. If we can. If a person has the wealth to pay the fee and tip, then it’s almost a must.

This week Surgeon General Jerome Adams, the leading spokesperson on matters of public health in the federal government appeared on the Today Show and offered the following advice “My advice to America would be that these guidelines are a national stay-at-home order.’’ If we are to truly flatten the curve and reduce the community spread of Coronavirus, then we will rely on others to perform daily tasks for us.

Grocery shopping included.

But, if we need to do it, we also need to be supporting those doing it for us.

The New York Times called the Coronavirus pandemic an equalizer, afflicting princes and paupers alike, with a March 27th piece about camouflaged class divides. It’s easy to recognize the privilege of using personal shoppers. To use Instacart one needs a device, phone or computer, and internet, data or wifi, both of which cost money, something that pockets of our country don’t have. Accessing these services is for the wealthy.

Or at least the well off.

The response though is not to shame those who are using these services. These people are doing their part. Saru Jayaraman, director of the Food Labor Research Center at UC Berkeley, told WIRED, that “by getting delivery, it’s possible you’re helping cut down on crowds in stores” so this is a positive.

Positives right now are hard to come by. The United States unemployment rate is soaring, and last week saw 6.6 million new claims, so these roles in the gig economy are not only extremely helpful in flattening the curve by reducing the number of outings in public a person makes and significantly decreasing traffic in grocery stores, but they are providing stable employment and income during this trivial time.

At this point, it may be redundant to say but using personal shoppers helps, and shaming those using them is not helpful.

“Given the number of people they see daily, the deliverers are probably among those at greatest risk of exposure, so they do need to be careful. If we can minimize unnecessary food delivery, we should.” — Dr Thomas Tsai, The Guardian

So, what is this moral obligation we all have?

It’s to support those who are putting their health at risk, to protect ours.

If you’ve been following Instacart closely, you’re aware of the Gig Workers Collective call for an Emergency Walk Off earlier this week after weeks of being ignored when calling for Instacart to take proper safety precautions in support of their shoppers.

In a powerful statement, The Gig Workers collective said “Instacart has a well-established history of exploiting its Shoppers, one that extends years back before our current crisis. Now, its mistreatment of Shoppers has stooped to an all-time low. They are profiting astronomically off of us literally risking our lives, all while refusing to provide us with effective protection, meaningful pay, and meaningful benefits.”

You may not be directly supporting the exploitation of their Shoppers, but by continuing to use the service, without supporting Shoppers, you’re contributing to it.

What are the demands of Instacart shoppers?

Spoiler alert: They’re reasonable.

The Gig Workers Collective original demands were:

  • Safety precautions at no cost to workers. This includes Personal protective equipment which at minimum is hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes/sprays and soap.

  • Hazard pay: An extra $5 per order and defaulting the in-app tip amount to at least 10% of the order total

  • An expansion of pay for workers impacted by COVID-19 — anyone who has a doctor’s note for either a preexisting condition that’s a known risk factor or requiring a self-quarantine. Workers who must stay home due to conditions that put them at high risk are still not getting sick pay.

  • The deadline to qualify for these benefits must be extended beyond April 8th.

To complicate matters, even more, understand the risk these shoppers face. On Monday, March 30th, Instacart corporate shared an email to shoppers of a confirmed case of COVID-19 at a Star Market in Massachusetts, and that shoppers who have been working in that store in close quarters with someone who may have been infected with COVID-19. And, as of April 2nd, at least four different groups of In-Store Shoppers have received notice this week that they may have been exposed to COVID-19 on the job.

“They are clearly comfortable playing Russian Roulette with not only workers’ lives” — GWC

All of these demands wouldn’t be an unreasonable ask if these companies were protecting their employees. But they aren’t.

Since the original demands, Instacart did make some announcements addressing it, to the unsatisfaction of the GWC who called the Instacart response, “the cheapest way for Instacart to attempt to generate good PR.”

Instacart Shoppers are still without any sort of hazard pay, without accessible sick leave, without quarantine pay for those with a doctor’s note, and the in-app default tip amount is still not 10%.

Little has changed.

So, to return to our role as app users, or prospective app users, we must confront ourselves and comfort ourselves. We are asking others to put themselves at risk. And don’t confuse this with thinking shoppers have self-selected or opted into these roles and asked to become our most at-risk populations. The question is have these individuals even self-selected or has a system forced them into it?

The moral obligation we have is to support the workers of all services that employ individuals to put themselves at risk in an effort to flatten the curve and protect our health.

The moral obligation is to become an activist, not a demonstrator, and perform actions that accelerate the protections of these shoppers.

With wealth, defined as the ability to absorb any additional fees from an online order, comes individual responsibility, which today is in the form of an obligation to support and protect those risking their lives, for ours.

We are even incentivized to do this through our personal health.

To amplify efforts, consider actions equivalent to calling Senators and send tweets, share articles, educate your LinkedIn network and Facebook friends, or contact Instacart directly. Tip larger amounts or at least 10% or your order, leave great reviews to bolster ratings, be considerate of any delays, and support gig workers as best you can by following their plights.

And, whatever you do, don’t do this.

Richie. Human.


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