Digital Labour Platforms in the Global South: Filling or Creating Institutional Voids?

Richard Heeks, Karsten Eskelund, Juan Erasmo Gomez-Morantes, Fareesa Malik & Brian Nicholson


The impact of platforms in the global South is under-researched. This paper analyses the role of platforms in relation to “institutional voids”: absences or shortcomings of formal institutions that can create shortfalls in the operation of markets. Through a mix of primary and secondary research, this paper studies gig economy platforms like Uber and Upwork that digitise labour market functions.

It finds that platforms do beneficially fill voids: creating new and, in some ways, better jobs. But their digital void-filling concentrates power and constrains worker behaviour. Simultaneously, platforms maintain or create institutional voids, leading to power asymmetries, over-competition between workers, platform opportunism, and job insecurity and precarity. The paper ends by suggesting practical actions to address these downsides of platformisation, and by identifying some future research priorities.

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