IGF 2023 WS #494 Strengthening Worker Autonomy in the Modern Workplace

Wednesday, 11th October, 2023 (23:30 UTC) - Thursday, 12th October, 2023 (00:30 UTC)
WS 1 – Annex Hall 1

Global Digital Governance & Cooperation
Governing Digital Economy

Organizer 1: Ayden Férdeline, 🔒
Organizer 2: wilneida NEGRON, Coworker

Speaker 1: wilneida NEGRON, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 2: Carrillo Eduardo, Civil Society, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)
Speaker 3: Raashi Saxena, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group
Speaker 4: Marta Rozmysłowicz, Private Sector, Eastern European Group

Additional Speakers

Eliza Aspen


Ayden Férdeline, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Online Moderator

Yasmin Al-Douri, Private Sector, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)


Ayden Férdeline, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)


Round Table - 60 Min

Policy Question(s)

1. How can policymakers ensure that workers are meaningfully involved in the decision-making processes related to the deployment of workplace technologies? 2. How should laws and regulations be updated to reflect the collective use and value of data in the workplace, and what legal rights should workers have in terms of accessing and utilizing this collective data? 3. How can we redefine and reframe labor laws and data protection regulations to address the implications of the digital transformation of work, and to better protect workers in an era of extensive digital surveillance and algorithmic decision-making?

What will participants gain from attending this session? Participants attending this session will gain: 1. New insights into the current landscape: the labor rights group Coworker.org will present new research from six countries demonstrating how digital transformation is affecting the nature of work, and the employer-employee relationship, globally. 2. In-depth knowledge about crossborder data flows and the impacts for worker privacy: in particular, we will explore the ways in which privacy and data protection laws may fall short in protecting workers' interests in the digital age. 3. Recognition of the collective value of data: we will dive into how aggregated workplace data can be used to evaluate employer claims, document potential issues, and gain insight into overall workplace dynamics. 4. An understanding of labor vs. data protection issues: we will offer a nuanced perspective on how these issues, while interconnected, need different approaches.


The digital transformation of work is redefining the boundaries of employer-employee relationships. The flow of data from workers to employers now includes vast amounts of digital footprints, extending from keystrokes and webcam feeds to inferred personality traits and performance metrics. Concurrently, the rise of large language models and algorithmic management is reshaping the dynamics of work, often without significant input from those most affected – the workers. Current data protection laws often view data as an individual concern, providing one worker with access to their personal data. However, the real value of data, especially for workers, is in its collective use -- to understand workplace dynamics, verify employer claims, and document potential issues. There is thus an urgent need to address these concerns as labor issues, rather than solely as data protection matters. This session will explore how data privacy and labor rights intersect, and explore potential strategies for ensuring fair and equitable workplace practices in this new era.

Expected Outcomes

The session will cultivate an understanding among participants of the intersection of data privacy and labor rights, particularly as they relate to the digital transformation of work. Participants will receive insights from Coworker.org’s ongoing research on global trends in algorithmic management practices, and learn about the shortcomings of current data protection laws. The session will highlight the importance of viewing data from a collective lens, discussing the different approaches needed to address workplace privacy and management issues as labor issues, as opposed to data protection matters. Additionally, the session offers a platform for networking with stakeholders from various fields, potentially leading to future partnerships. It is anticipated that the dialogue from this session will inform further research, policy development, and advocacy actions.

Hybrid Format: This session will be structured to maximize engagement from both onsite and online participants. Inperson and remote speakers will be equally called upon, with equal speaking time ensured. To facilitate interaction between onsite and online participants, the inperson moderator will be logged in to the remote participation platform and will monitor the chat for relevant interventions to be brought to the floor at the earliest opportunity. This will allow online attendees to comment and pose questions, ensuring their voices are heard.

Key Takeaways (* deadline 2 hours after session)
  • Exploitation and Inequality: Emerging technologies like AI intensify labor exploitation and escalate global inequality. The business models of companies using these tools can compromise social protection rights, as they often fail to offer decent working conditions. Vulnerable groups, including refugees, are increasingly exploited to refine AI datasets.
  • Policy and Regulation Concerns: Urgent policy reform is needed to ensure adequate transparency between employers and workers regarding technology use in workplaces. Strong workplace privacy regulations are essential to prevent unwarranted data collection, protect personal information, and to guard against the deployment of unsound analytical tools.
Call to Action (* deadline 2 hours after session)
  • Establish and Enforce Robust Regulatory Frameworks for Worker Protection and Privacy: Develop and enforce detailed, internationally-harmonized workplace data protection and privacy regulation to protect workers, including low-paid workers, vulnerable workers, and hidden labor in the gig economy.
  • Foster Industry Accountability Initiatives: Establish frameworks and bodies that scrutinize and shine a light on corporate actions, ensuring that employers across all sectors adhere to high ethical, socio-economic, and environmental standards.
Session Report (* deadline 26 October) - click on the ? symbol for instructions

The speakers presented insights into the gig economy, the future of work, the impact of Artificial Intelligence on labor rights, and corporate accountability in the context of achieving Sustainable Development Goal 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth).

Gig Economy:

  • Globally, platform-mediated gig workers face challenges including: low pay, long hours, lack of job security, and the absence of social protections. Case studies were presented from India and Paraguay. 
  • Gig workers face exacerbated problems due to the lack of data protection laws and regulations which apply in the workplace, and a lack of meaningful anti-discrimination regulations safeguarding independent contractors and freelance workers.

Labor Rights and Corporate Accountability:

  • While there are supportive measures for labor rights in some jurisdictions, implementation issues and challenges persist. The Covid-19 pandemic revealed the inadequacy of support for gig workers, highlighting the need for a better safety net.
  • Data protection laws and regulations are crucial to preventing the potential misuse of data collected in the workplace. At the same time, there is a need for worker autonomy in the digital age, especially in surveillance-heavy environments.
  • The concentration of power in the data brokerage industry, market dynamics, and acquisitions raise concerns about transparency, competition, and data privacy.
  • There were calls for greater accountability in venture capital and early-stage interventions in private markets. There is a need for more transparency in companies' developmental stages and more consultation with impacted workers.

Venture Capital and Economic Growth:

  • The venture capital ecosystem remains insular, favoring established networks. Only 7% of female founders globally receive backing from VC firms, pointing to a significant gender disparity in entrepreneurial support, and many problematic workplace surveillance technologies are being developed by men.
  • Platform cooperativism is a potential solution. Governments should promote the creation of fairer work platforms by the workers themselves.

Global Initiatives:

  • UN instruments like the Global Digital Compact, and the WSIS+20 Review, are positioned as tools that could aid in achieving the objectives of SDG 8.