LEWI Research

Express Delivery, Labor and Platform Capitalism in China (2017-2022)  

Dr Jenny CHAN Wai-ling

This project traces the privatization of postal services and the changing labor relations of delivery service work in China’s digital economy. A majority of deliverymen, unlike those directly employed by the state-owned EMS and the biggest privately-run SF Express, are classified as “independent contractors” under franchise. As self-employed individuals, however, they are not entitled to employment contracts or social insurance benefits. While these “micro-entrepreneurs” enjoy a certain degree of freedom at work, I find that they are simultaneously regulated by mobile logistics technologies, supervisors, and customers, resulting in steady intensification of labor, reduction of delivery times, and securing of higher profit for the company at the expense of workers. Deliverymen seek to beat the time specified to pick, pack, and send the goods as a means to increase their income. But it is precisely in this way that they routinely consent to their own exploitation by driving up the required speed for fellow workers. The isolated and atomized work environment induces further competition through price-cutting, slashing personal income and weakening labor solidarity. Through participant observation in Beijing and extensive review of company data, this research will contribute to platform capitalism, gender studies, and labor politics in global China.