A leaked cache of confidential files from ride-hailing company Uber illustrates ethically questionable and potentially illegal tactics it has used to fuel its frenetic global expansion that began nearly a decade ago, a joint investigation by the United States revealed on Sunday. media.
Dubbed the ‘Uber Files’, the investigation involving dozens of news outlets found company officials leveraged the taxi industry’s sometimes violent backlash against drivers for support and evaded regulators as it sought to conquer new markets early in its history.
Drawn from 124,000 documents from 2013 to 2017 originally obtained by Britain’s The Guardian daily and shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the revelations are the latest success story for a business beset by controversy as it exploded into a disruptive force in local transportation.
The cache includes blunt text and email exchanges between the executives, featuring co-founder and former chief executive Travis Kalanick, who was forced to resign in 2017 following accusations of brutal management and multiple episodes of sexual and psychological harassment within the company.
“Violence guarantees success,” Kalanick sent to other business leaders as he pushed for a counter-protest amid sometimes heated demonstrations in Paris in 2016 against Uber’s entry into the market.
Uber’s rapid expansion relied on subsidized drivers and discount fares that undermined the taxi industry, and “often without applying for licenses to operate as a taxi and livery service”, reported the Washington Post, one of the media outlets involved in the investigation.
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Drivers across Europe faced violent reprisals as taxi drivers felt their livelihoods threatened. The investigation found that “in some cases, when drivers were attacked, Uber executives quickly pivoted to capitalize” to seek public and regulatory support, the Post said.
According to the Guardian, Uber has adopted similar tactics in European countries including Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and Italy, mobilizing drivers and encouraging them to file complaints with the police when they are victimized. violence, in order to use the media coverage to obtain concessions from the authorities.
A spokesperson for Kalanick strongly denied the findings as a “bogus program”, saying he “has never suggested that Uber should profit from violence at the expense of driver safety”.
Uber, however, on Sunday blamed previously publicized “mistakes” made by executives under Kalanick.
“We have moved from an era of confrontation to an era of collaboration, demonstrating a willingness to come to the table and find common ground with former opponents, including unions and taxi companies,” he said. he said, noting that his replacement, Dara Khosrowshahi, “has been tasked with transforming every aspect of Uber’s operation.”
The investigation also found that Uber was trying to evade regulatory investigations by taking advantage of a technological advantage, the Post wrote.
He describes a case where Kalanick implemented a “kill switch” to remotely cut off access for devices in an Amsterdam office to Uber’s internal systems during a raid by authorities.
“Please hit the kill switch ASAP,” he wrote in an email to an employee. “Access must be closed to AMS (Amsterdam).”
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Kalanick’s spokesman, Devon Spurgeon, said the former chief executive “never authorized any actions or programs that would obstruct justice in any country.”
Kalanick “did not create, direct or oversee these systems put in place by Legal and Compliance and has never been charged in any jurisdiction with obstruction of justice or any related offences,” she said. .
But the inquiry accused Uber’s actions of flouting laws and that executives knew about it, citing a joke that they had become “pirates”.
Reports say files reveal Uber has also lobbied governments to help with its expansion, in particular finding an ally in France Emmanuel Macron, who served as economy minister from 2014 to 2016 and is now the president from the country.
The company believed Macron would encourage regulators “to be ‘less conservative’ in their interpretation of the rules limiting the company’s operations,” the Post said.
Macron was an outspoken supporter of Uber and the idea of making France a “start-up nation” in general, but the leaked documents suggest that the minister’s support even clashed at times with the government’s policy of left.
The revelations sparked outrage from left-wing politicians, who denounced Uber-Macron ties against “all our rules, all our social rights and against workers’ rights”, and condemned the “looting of the country”.