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The App Drivers and Couriers Union (ADCU) is demanding the immediate dismissal of a senior Uber executive, claiming that his employment by the tech giant breaches its 2018 licence conditions.
Emma Arbuthnot, then chief magistrate at Westminster Magistrates Court, ruled in June 2018 that Uber must not employ any senior staff who were involved in activity designed to thwart regulatory oversight in the UK, or any other jurisdiction, as a condition of its licence to operate in London for a further 15 months.
The ADCU’s demand for the dismissal of Uber’s senior vice-president for delivery, Pierre-Dimitri Gore-Coty, follows the publication of the Uber Files – a cache of about 124,000 leaked documents that suggest Gore-Coty was directly involved in Uber’s attempts to evade regulatory oversight.
Obtained by the Guardian and shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and 42 other media partners, the Uber Files detail decision-making within the company during a sustained period of global expansion between 2013 and 2017.
The documents contain more than 83,000 emails, iMessages and WhatsApp messages revealing high-level communications between key Uber executives, including Gore-Coty, who held the positions of regional general manager for Western Europe and vice-president of mobility during the period covered by the leak.
Since the magistrates’ licensing decision, Gore-Coty has been promoted a further three times, serving as vice-president for Uber’s ride-hailing business outside North America from May 2019, before becoming vice-president of delivery in February 2020 and then senior vice-president of delivery in March 2021 – meaning he is now responsible or UberEats and the firm’s other on-demand delivery services.
One of Uber’s key claims in response to the Uber Files revelation is that the company has changed its way under the leadership of CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, who took up the role in August 2017, nearly a full year before the magistrates’ decision.
“Regulatory control in rideshare exists for the safety of both drivers and the travelling public,” said ADCU president Yaseen Aslam and ADCU general secretary James Farrar in a joint statement. “We have all seen the tragic results of Uber’s unethical and exploitative management conduct, which too often, directly or indirectly, places passengers and drivers at risk of death or injury.
“Gore-Coty did not just passively ignore regulations, he led a management initiative to thwart regulatory oversight and defy enforcement. In his current role as SVP for delivery, a market that is less regulated even than rideshare, Gore-Coty presents a very serious risk to the safety of millions of vulnerable UberEats couriers worldwide. For these reasons, we are demanding the immediate dismissal of Pierre-Dimitri Gore-Coty by the CEO and board of directors of Uber.”
Computer Weekly contacted Uber about the ADCU’s demand for Gore-Coty’s dismissal on the basis that it violates the 2018 licence conditions, but received no response. Computer Weekly also contacted Gore-Coty, but also received no response.
According to the ICIJ’s report, Gore-Coty wrote to Uber staff in 2014 that the tactics used by the company to fight legal and regulatory enforcement had been compiled in a “very good playbook”.
These tactics include the activation of a so-called “kill switch” in response to police raids of Uber’s office’s in at least six jurisdictions, which were used at the behest of senior managers to remotely cut server access and prevent law enforcement from accessing its systems and seizing evidence against the company.
In its Uber Files report, the Guardian noted that Gore-Coty himself had issued instructions to kill access to Uber’s computer systems during police raids.
According to the documents, other tactics used by Uber include identifying police or government officials who it thought were ordering Uber cars to gather evidence, so it could then show them a fake version of the app with phantom cars that never arrived. Known as Greyball, this dummy version of the app was used in the Netherlands, Belgium, Russia, Bulgaria, Denmark, Spain and other countries.
Such tactics also factored into Arbuthnot’s ruling, which noted that Uber used software called Ripley “to remotely lock computers when regulators were visiting”, as well as Greyball, “which could be used to evade regulatory processes”.
While Gore-Coty did not respond to the ICIJ’s questions about the tactics playbook and the kill switch, he expressed remorse for some of Uber’s tactics in an emailed statement. “I joined Uber nearly 10 years ago, at the start of my career,” he said. “I was young and inexperienced and too often took direction from superiors with questionable ethics.”
In a letter to Khosrowshahi and Uber chair Ronald Sugar seen by Computer Weekly, the ADCU said Gore-Coty must be dismissed immediately by Uber in the interests of worker and customer safety, adding that his statement to the ICIJ “simply doesn’t cut it”.
The union wrote: “First, Gore-Coty was in a very senior position when this activity took place throughout Europe. He was not at the start of his career in 2014. In fact, before joining Uber, he had worked in senior positions at Goldman Sachs and others at least since 2005.
“Second, it is unacceptable that Gore-Coty trivialises such wrongdoing by dismissing it as a result of his relative youth and inexperience. Gore-Coty did not understand the elementary difference between what is right and what is wrong then, and it is apparent he still does not, despite being a member of Uber’s senior leadership team.
“Third, and most importantly, Uber’s continued employment of Gore-Coty was a direct violation of license conditions. It is true that Uber replaced senior management staff in the UK at the time but, in our opinion, it is disingenuous and unlawful that Gore-Coty not only stayed on as the boss in Europe with direct responsibility for Uber London Limited, but was later promoted by Dara Khosrowshahi to the executive board.”
The ADCU added that it was in Uber’s interests to dismiss Gore-Coty, because it would help to rebuild drivers’ trust and show that the company is serious about changing, “rather than perpetually spinning and covering up”.
Both mayor of London Sadiq Khan and the chair of Transport for London (TfL) were copied into the ADCU’s letter.
Computer Weekly contacted TfL about whether it was aware of Gore-Coty’s continued employment at Uber and the potential role he played in evading regulatory action, as well as why this did not lead to a licence revocation if so, but received no response by time of publication.
Computer Weekly also contacted the mayor’s office for comment, but similarly received no response.
The union has previously called for Uber to comply with a UK Supreme Court ruling by paying drivers minimum wage and holiday pay for all working time, which means from when they log in to the app, not just when they are assigned to trips.
In February 2021, the Supreme Court ruled that drivers should be classified as workers rather than self-employed individuals, giving roughly 70,000 drivers the right to be paid the national minimum wage, to receive statutory minimum holiday pay and rest breaks, as well as protection from unlawful discrimination and whistleblowing.
Although Uber announced in March 2021 that drivers would receive holiday pay, be automatically enrolled in a workplace pension scheme and earn at least the national living wage (£8.72 an hour), this was only applied to the time drivers are assigned to trips, rather than, as the Supreme Court explicitly ruled, from when they log in to the app.