Leaked e-mails from Uber bosses to their teams have revealed alleged discrepancies in functioning, ethical handling of grievance redressal and 'potentially illegal' tactics to help its global expansion. The revelations came to the fore on Sunday after a joint media investigation.
British daily The Guardian obtained the information after scanning some 124,000 documents from 2013-2017. The documents were later shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. "A leaked trove of confidential files has revealed the inside story of how the tech giant Uber flouted laws, duped police, exploited violence against drivers and secretly lobbied governments during its aggressive global expansion," The Guardian wrote.
The documents used in the investigation consisted of over 83,000 emails, iMessages, and WhatsApp messages. Some of these messages were 'often frank and unvarnished communications between Travis Kalanick and his top team of executives', The Guardian reported.
Kalanick was the chief executive and co-founder of Uber and was forced to step down from his post in 2017 amid accusations of brutal management practices and multiple episodes of sexual and psychological harassment at the company. In one of the messages to other company leaders, Kalanick had said "Violence guarantees success" in 2016 after protests against Uber's arrival in the market in Paris. The executives had expressed fears that sending Uber drivers to a protest in France would put them at risk of violence from angry opponents in the taxi industry.
The investigation has revealed that company executives used incidents of violence against drivers as opportunities to 'seek public and regulatory support'.
Uber's India Case
Like elsewhere, the probe has revealed Uber's misconduct and mismanagement of issues. "Embrace the chaos. It means you are doing something meaningful," Uber's then Asia Head, Allen Penn said to the team in India via email in August 2014, according to The Indian Express. The email had directions to Uber's India team on how to bypass government regulations and keep the authorities at bay.
"We will likely have both local and national issues in almost every city in India for the rest of your tenure at Uber… Don't talk to the Government or folks close to the Government unless you have specifically discussed with Jordan (a reference to Jordan Condo, Uber's Head of Public Policy for Asia)… we will generally stall, be unresponsive, and often say no to what they want. This is how we operate and it's nearly always the best. Early quick meetings set us up for failure. Get comfortable with that approach… don't let it distract you from your mission to dominate the market," The Indian Express quoted Penn's message in its report.
In December that year a woman was sexually assaulted by an Uber driver in Delhi. Amid the uproar, fueled by the issue of women safety in national capital, Uber faced certain curbs from authorities. The cabs were off the roads for some time while the company was asked to apply for license in India.
The company top bosses were apparently in touch with top world leaders to enter markets. Among these leaders is Emmanuel Macron who helped Uber in France while he was the economy minister there.
"Macron, the French president, appears to have gone to extraordinary lengths to help Uber, even telling the company he had brokered a secret "deal" with its opponents in the French cabinet," The Guardian reported.
A similar modus operandi was followed in other European nations like such as Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, and Italy, where the drivers were encouraged to approach the police in case of any violence 'in order to use media coverage to obtain concessions from the authorities', according to The Guardian probe.
The management employed a 'kill switch' system to cut off access to devices from the internal systems of Uber to evade regulatory actions like tax raids. The investigation found 'kill switch' was used 13 times between 2013 and 2016 in cities like Amsterdam, Montreal, Hong Kong, Budapest, Lyon and Paris.