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The Emergence of Democratic Firms in the Platform Economy: Drivers, Obstacles, and the Path Ahead

On 15 February 2022, Morshed Mannan defended the thesis 'The Emergence of Democratic Firms in the Platform Economy: Drivers, Obstacles, and the Path Ahead'. The doctoral research was supervised by Prof. I.S. Wuisman and Prof. J.A.A. Adriaanse.

Morshed Mannan
15 February 2022

There has been growing concern about the depredations of platform capitalism, ranging from the erosion of workplace protections to questionable corporate, labour, and data governance practices. This PhD research project investigated the emergence of ‘democratic’ alternatives to capital-managed platform businesses, which confer important control and financial rights to the stakeholders that contribute intellectual, social, financial and use value to a firm. Interdisciplinary research methods were used for this project, combining doctrinal research with the use of a Delphi study and case studies. In terms of scope, the research specifically focused on platform companies and democratic firms in Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, Spain, the United Kingdom,  and the United States.

This dissertation makes a three-fold contribution to the literature. First, it explores the extent to which democratic firms can ameliorate the socio-economic concerns raised by capital-managed online labour and social media platforms. Second, it unpacks the (socio-)legal obstacles that exist to the formation and governance of democratic firms in the platform economy. Third, it charts pathways towards making such firms more viable. The dissertation found that while factors such as the shifting of risk onto workers and concern about corporate accountability drove interest in democratic firms, start-up costs (e.g., obtaining adequate financing) and governance costs (e.g., member apathy) have been barriers to formation. Based on the aforementioned empirical research and theoretical insights from earlier historical experiences with democratic firms, potential solutions are tentatively offered to overcome these barriers, from the use of degradable reputation tools to the joint development of the platform’s intellectual property.

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