Discussing the not-so-glamorous under-belly of India’s e-commerce system

One big problem of analysing what makes a sector/company successful is that the analysis leaves the very people which are behind the success. Much of the credit goes to some CEO/leader who has shaped the organisation. But the real people are broadly ignored.

This is much like the literature which looks at empires and kings as well. Certain emperors are eulogized over others for their grand plans and victories. But no one looks at the conditions of foot soldiers during the rule. And when these details are looked into, we realise none of the great emperors/kings were as great as they were made out to be. Most of them even ignored the basic human conditions of their armies.  Wars were won over the cost of many such people who either did not have voices or were crushed.

Just a few days ago, there was this article which investigated the crazy work culture of Amazon. They seem to have surpassed the Wall Street culture which one thought was impossible to beat. Reading such pieces makes you wonder the behind the scene activity of this highly efficient e-commerce enterprise.

And then Amazon is not alone in the game.

Gulzar points to this interesting article on the underbelly of Indian e-commerce. We keep celebrating the founders of these companies. The attention is mostly on their branded degrees and the market valuation of these companies. But hardly probe deeper on what makes these places tick. In this case, delivery boys play a crucial role and like the Amazon people have a crazy work-life balance as well. Where Amazon people have to climb the wall  on hitting it, the delivery boys have to climb through Indian traffic.

They are the backbone of the $16.4 billion, and growing, e-commerce industry of India. A rough estimate puts their number at more than 1 lakh, whizzing through traffic and tackling India’s cities and suburbs to deliver everything from books to furniture and vegetables on the doorstep. In the heady convenience of online shopping, it is easy to overlook what stands in the way of that package in the real world. But last week, over 400 online delivery and sorting staff brought the message home. For eight days now, they have been on strike in Mumbai, demanding, among other things, regular offs, uniform, bike maintenance, laundry allowance — and toilets. 

The article gives you a really sad picture of what all these people have to go through to deliver that package at your doorstep.

One could argue that other options of not having a job could be actually worse. But there is no reason why all these companies can’t take better care of people that really matter to the business.

On a more philosophical side, is all this worth it? We are increasingly creating a society which values everything on the basis of efficiency. The human connect and aspect is being lost out in most organisations. Everything is just about money and more money.

Gulzar also wonders why we do not debate such issues? Well, this is not surprising. Indian media has for long ignored things that matter. It is just about booms and busts in financial markets that make headlines. Black Monday, Black Thursday and so on. Not a thought for “Black everyday” for some people who are creating so much buzz around Indian business and economy..

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