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Title: Hunger for profit : how food delivery platforms manage couriers in China
Authors: Chan, J 
Issue Date: 2021
Source: Sociologias, 2021, v. 23, no. 57, p. 58-82
Abstract: How do food delivery platform firms, such as Meituan (operated by Tencent) and (owned by Alibaba), manage couriers through service contracting rather than formal employment? How do couriers experience control and autonomy at work? Using observation and interviews, the author finds that a combination of data-driven surveillance systems and customer feedback mechanisms are incentivizing workers’ efforts. Corporate utilization of both manual and emotional labor is critical to realizing profits. Individual freedom is framed in a way that crowdsourced couriers are not required to work a minimum amount of time. Flexibility enabled by the algorithmic management, however, cuts both ways. When there is less demand, the platform corporations automatically reduce their dependence on labor. With variable food orders and piece rates, workers’ minimum earnings are not guaranteed. In the absence of Chinese legal protections over the fast-growing food delivery sector, informal workers are desperately struggling for livelihood.
Keywords: Informal work
Algorithmic management
Emotional labor
Food delivery workers
Rural migrants
Publisher: Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul. Programa de Pos-Graduacao em Sociologia
Journal: Sociologias 
ISSN: 1517-4522
EISSN: 1807-0337
DOI: 10.1590/15174522-112308
Rights: This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (
The following publication CHAN, Jenny, Hunger for profit: how food delivery platforms manage couriers in China, SOCIOLOGIAS, Porto Alegre, RS, v. 23, n. 57, p. 58-82, aug. 2021. ISSN 1807-0337 is available at:
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