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Uber gets into damage control with the story of a changed company post 2017

Uber's comment on an ICIJ report on the manner in which it flouted local rules to build its business is revealing as it seeks to wash its hands off the management's deeds pre-2017

Uber | Uber case | Uber cabs

BS Reporter  |  Mumbai 

Khosrowshahi, unlike his predecessor, was keen to meet lawmakers to resolve regulatory logjams.

With a report on by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) opening a Pandora’s box, the company is in a damage-control mode. Distancing itself from the actions of its management pre-2017, Uber, while acknowledging the "mistakes" of the past, has said that under CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, it “is a different company".

“There has been no shortage of reporting on Uber’s mistakes prior to 2017. Thousands of stories have been published, multiple books have been written -- there’s even been a TV series,” said in a statement on Monday.

Five years ago, those mistakes led to a big moment of reckoning in corporate America. The company brought in Dara Khosrowshahi as the new chief executive officer (CEO) and also hired Eric Holder, a former US attorney general, to investigate and overhaul its business practices.

Based on Holder’s recommendations, Khosrowshahi rewrote the company’s values; revamped the leadership team; made safety a top priority; implemented best-in-class corporate governance practices; hired an independent board chair; and installed the controls and compliance necessary to operate as a public company.

“When we say is a different company today, we mean it literally: Ninety per cent of current Uber employees joined after Dara became CEO,” said the company in its statement.

Several reports from the time when Khosrowshahi took over quote him as saying that the company was doing away with its “pirate culture” and the new focus was on “growing responsibly”.

One of the biggest criticisms of the company was its lack of diversity. So, Khosrowshahi’s first big hire was a chief diversity and inclusion officer, Bo Young Lee, and also a first chief operating officer (COO), Barney Harford.

Khosrowshahi, unlike his predecessor, was keen to meet lawmakers to resolve regulatory logjams. The first one was to meet London lawmakers after the city revoked Uber’s licence to operate.

The biggest change came when Uber signed a deal last year with Britain’s trade union body, GMB, that its private hire drivers would become members of the union. Uber signed the deal two months after agreeing to guarantee its 70,000 UK drivers a minimum hourly wage, holiday pay and pensions in March after a landmark Supreme Court ruling, according to a report in The Guardian.

This March, Uber also joined hands with the famous yellow taxis of New York, which can be booked using Uber’s app.

The India story

Uber’s run-ins with the Indian government are well-documented. Only last month, the Central Authority (CCPA) pulled up both Uber and on rising complaints of consumer rights violations.

A senior official at CCPA confirmed that the authority has issued notices to online cab booking platforms, including Uber, on rising complaints from users. "The replies to these notices are currently under examination.

We would consider any further action after completing the review of the replies," said the official, asking not to be named.

In March this year, Bombay High Court, too, pulled up cab aggregator platforms and Uber for operating in Maharashtra without valid licences. Uber is also facing heat from its driver partners who have been complaining that their earnings have fallen drastically.

The other big ask from Uber in India has been the “panic button” for the safety of passengers. When contacted, an spokesperson said: “We continue to enhance safety on the platform, including the share-trip feature through which a rider can share their trip details with their trusted contacts, while they are riding in an Uber. In addition, rider and driver contact details are anonymised when they are connected to ensure their safety and privacy.

India is one of the first countries in the world with a Code on Social Security (2020). Asked if the company is doing anything about that, though the CoSS is yet to be implemented, the company spokesperson said: “At Uber, we are working directly with drivers and social startups to get them registered on the government's e-Shram portal to ensure welfare delivery even before CoSS has been notified. We have a role to play in boosting the pace of its adoption, and supporting the government’s efforts to mobilise and register gig workers so that they can benefit from this historic legislation."

In India, while Uber is no way near achieving what it has in the UK in terms of making taxi unions a part of its ecosystem, in March this year, the company set up its first Driver Advisory Council.

Uber on the whistleblower

An official Uber spokesperson in India shared this statement on whistleblower Mark MacGann, a former top lobbyist for the company who has identified himself as the source of the leaked files: “We understand that Mark has personal regrets about his years of steadfast loyalty to our previous leadership, but he is in no position to speak credibly about Uber today.”

“Mark had only praise for Uber when he left the company six years ago. In his 2016 departure email, he called Uber the ‘enterprise of this generation’ and described himself as ‘a strong believer in Uber’s mission.’ Since then, however, Mark has been in litigation against the company in an attempt, among other things, to get paid a bonus he claimed to be owed for his work at Uber. That lawsuit recently ended with him being paid 585,000 euros. It is noteworthy that Mark felt compelled to ‘blow the whistle’ only after his check cleared."

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First Published: Tue, July 12 2022. 19:01 IST