Uber Technologies Inc. released its civil rights audit on Friday, an outside review it agreed to undergo last year after pressure from shareholders, to mixed reactions. The audit, conducted by former U.S. attorney general Eric Holder and his law firm, examined Uber’s policies and practices on issues such as diversity, equity, inclusion, safety, and accountability.
Audit highlights progress and challenges
The audit report praised Uber for taking steps to address some of the concerns raised by shareholders and other stakeholders, such as improving its diversity and inclusion efforts, enhancing its safety features and reporting, and creating a social impact team. The report also acknowledged Uber’s role in providing economic opportunities and mobility access to millions of people around the world.
However, the audit also identified several areas where Uber needs to do more to protect the civil rights of its drivers, riders, employees, and communities. Some of the key recommendations include:
- Establishing a dedicated team to oversee equity and fairness issues across the company
- Developing a comprehensive strategy to address racial equity and justice
- Strengthening the processes and policies for driver deactivations and appeals
- Enhancing the transparency and accountability of its pricing algorithm
- Expanding its partnerships with civil rights organizations and community groups
Driver deactivations spark controversy
One of the most contentious issues raised by the audit is the lack of recourse for drivers who are kicked off the platform for various reasons, such as low ratings, safety incidents, or background checks. The audit found that Uber’s deactivation policies and practices are inconsistent, unclear, and often unfair to drivers, especially those who belong to marginalized groups.
The audit recommended that Uber should provide drivers with more information and guidance on how to avoid deactivations, as well as more opportunities to appeal or reinstate their accounts. The audit also suggested that Uber should consider alternative measures to deactivations, such as coaching, training, or temporary suspensions.
Some driver advocates and labor groups criticized the audit for not addressing the root cause of the problem, which is Uber’s business model that treats drivers as independent contractors rather than employees. They argued that Uber’s misclassification of drivers deprives them of basic labor rights and protections, such as minimum wage, overtime pay, health insurance, sick leave, and collective bargaining.
Pricing algorithm under scrutiny
Another issue that drew attention from the audit is Uber’s pricing algorithm, which determines how much riders pay and drivers earn for each trip. The audit found that Uber’s algorithm is complex and dynamic, taking into account factors such as supply and demand, distance, time, traffic, surge pricing, promotions, and fees.
The audit noted that Uber’s algorithm does not explicitly consider race or other protected characteristics of drivers or riders. However, the audit also acknowledged that there is evidence of racial disparities in the outcomes of the algorithm, such as higher prices or lower earnings for people of color or low-income communities.
The audit recommended that Uber should conduct regular audits and analyses of its pricing algorithm to identify and address any potential sources of bias or discrimination. The audit also urged Uber to increase its transparency and communication with drivers and riders about how the algorithm works and how it affects them.
Shareholders express mixed reactions
The shareholder groups that pushed for the civil rights audit expressed optimism that it would lead to some changes at Uber, but also pointed out some limitations and gaps in the report. They said that they would continue to monitor Uber’s progress and hold it accountable for implementing the recommendations.
Some shareholders praised Uber for being one of the first major tech companies to undergo a civil rights audit and for showing a willingness to listen and learn from its stakeholders. They said that they hope that Uber’s example would inspire other tech companies to follow suit and conduct their own civil rights audits.
Other shareholders criticized Uber for not being specific or ambitious enough in some of its commitments and actions. They said that Uber should adopt more concrete goals and timelines for achieving its diversity, equity, and inclusion objectives. They also said that Uber should address some of the fundamental issues that affect its civil rights impact, such as its labor model, its environmental footprint, and its corporate governance.