Category winner: Uber and the Ethics of Sharing:
Exploring the Societal Promises and Responsibilities of the
Sharing Economy

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This case won the Ethics and Social Responsibility category at The Case Centre Awards and Competitions 2019.
 
The case

uberWho – the protagonist

Travis Kalanick, co-founder of Uber.

What?

Uber is the ride-hailing service, worth $60billion, which has taken the world by storm.

The company is popular and controversial in equal measure. Whilst boasting tens of millions of customers worldwide, Uber’s reluctance to abide by government regulations, and threatening the very existence of the taxi industry, has angered many.

Why?

In the last few years the sharing economy has exploded, with internet platforms and smartphone applications such as Uber, Airbnb and JustPark allowing people to rent out their driving, accommodation and parking services, to name just a few.

But with this growth, has the sharing economy lived up to the early vision of ‘sharing’ among ‘peers’? Aggressive market share tactics deployed by companies like Uber suggest not.

uberWhere?

Uber was founded in San Francisco but has since gone on to operate in 300 cities worldwide.

When?

Uber, then Ubercab, started operations in the San Francisco area in summer 2010, but by 2016 taxi drivers in Paris were rioting in the streets in protest of Uber's lack of respect for rules and regulations of the trade. Other protests have happened in Boston, London, Rio de Janeiro, Guangzhou and Mexico City.

Key quote

“There is often room for just one successful platform in a market, and the ‘winner takes it all’. It's no surprise that old monopoly concerns are arising anew.” – Felix Barber of Ashridge Business School as quoted in the case.

uber

What next?

Sharing economy companies rocketed up the agendas of the world’s highest-ranking governing agencies in recent years.

The European Commission was seriously considering whether to regulate ridesharing on a European level, while the Democrats and Republicans in the US have taken the opposing views of lining up on the side of the regulations and calling for unfettered free enterprise.

 
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Uber and the Ethics of Sharing: Exploring the Societal Promises and Responsibilities of the Sharing Economy
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Teaching note
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The authors

Craig Smith and Erin McCormick

authorCraig discusses the popularity of Uber as a case subject and how it causes plenty of debate in the classroom.

Topical issues

Craig said: “My three awards in the Ethics and Social Responsibility category have each been for cases that tackle significant current issues, so labour rights in the supply chain (Walmart), access to essential medicines (GSK), and now the ethics and responsibilities of the new digital economy businesses such as Uber. So, I think they have been timely and resonated well with faculty and student interests.”Topical issues

Healthy debate

He continued: “Most students have mixed feelings about Uber. They welcome it as a much-needed innovation in the transportation sector but have misgivings about its business practices. Some will argue that it can do no wrong – even to the point of breaking the law. Others suggest it could have – and should have – achieved as much without the misconduct, albeit more slowly.

“Perhaps better described as an “on-demand” economy business, many are sceptical of the sharing economy sustainability benefits it originally seemed to offer, though they wouldn’t be without it!”

focusing on the ethicsFocusing on the ethics

He added: “Uber is a fascinating company in many ways, not least in its phenomenal growth and disruption of the transportation sector.

“However, unlike many of the other cases out there on Uber, this case focuses explicitly on HOW the business has grown from an ethics and social responsibility perspective, particularly in its social and environmental impacts.

“It also provides ample scope for generalisation beyond the one company, asking fundamental questions about the extent to which digital platforms like Uber, Airbnb or Facebook have the same responsibilities as the traditional businesses they are replacing (taxi companies, hotels, etc.).”

Perfect length

Craig commented: “The length provides the depth that can be essential to a detailed discussion of the case. However, it has lots of pictures, so it is not as long as it might seem!

“It is also an easy read, benefitting from the excellent writing of the case writer, Erin McCormick, who also happens to be an award-winning journalist.”

Future plans

He concluded: “We have developed another Uber case (with Erin) that I’m currently testing in the INSEAD classroom and will be released shortly. This is focused on sexual harassment.”

About the authors

N Craig Smith is the INSEAD Chaired Professor of Ethics and Social Responsibility at INSEAD.
e Craig.Smith@insead.edu

Erin McCormick is a case writer at INSEAD.
erin.a.mccormick@gmail.com

 

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