Nearly two months after his re-election, the French opposition is summoning French president Emmanuel Macron to explain himself after the revelation by the press of privileged exchanges between Uber and Macron when he was at Bercy.
The left-wing alliance Nupes wants a parliamentary commission of inquiry, while the far-right National Rally (Rassemblement National) is asking for a “right of follow-up” after the ‘Uber Files’ information based on thousands of internal documents at Uber.
They have been sent by the lobbyist, who has now become a whistleblower, Mark MacGann, to the British daily The Guardian and transmitted to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and 42 partners media. “Uber broke the law, misled police and regulators, exploited violence against drivers, and secretly lobbied governments around the world,” the British daily says, “to obtain a deregulation of the market.”
‘We’ll be dancing soon’
According to Le Monde, one of the partner media, Emmanuel Macron, concluded a secret deal with the American company Uber when he was Minister of the Economy (2014-2016). Furthermore, the reports of the meetings between Uber France teams and Macron points to certain practices designed to help Uber consolidate its positions in France, such as suggesting that the company present “ready-made” amendments to MPs.
These exchanges would even have led the two parties to conclude a “secret deal”, facilitating the establishment in France of the VTC (vehicle of transport with driver) company, even though the so-called Thévenoud law, adopted in 2014 and supposed to tighten the conditions for becoming a driver, had just come into force.
The confidential meeting in October 2014 with four Uber figures that preceded the deal was not on Emmanuel Macron’s agenda. “In a word: spectacular. Unheard of,” wrote Mark MacGann in a brief report sent to his colleagues afterward. Lots of work to do, but we’ll be dancing soon ;)” “Mega top meeting with Emmanuel Macron this morning. France loves us after all,” he also wrote.
The current President of the Republic has never hidden his sympathy for Uber and its model, which he believes can create many jobs, especially for the low-skilled. At the time, he also spoke out against the ban on Uber in Paris and explained that “his job is not to help established companies but to work for outsiders, innovators.”
But the Uber Files show to what extent Emmanuel Macron has been, in Bercy, more than a support, almost a partner.
Considering that Macron acted like a real lobbyist, it is, however, not so evident under the current legislation to cross-examine the active president of the Republic. The Constitution does not allow it today, but some political parties propose to modify it for that.
Some politicians also question the role of Elisabeth Borne. The head of government was Minister of Transport at the time of the Mobility Orientation Law and then Minister of Labor when social dialogue was promoted in the VTC sector – “without granting employee status to Uber drivers”.
When contacted by Le Monde, the Elysée Palace asserted that the action of the former Minister of the Economy was within the classic framework of the functions of a minister who was “naturally led to exchange with many companies involved in the profound mutation of services that occurred during the years mentioned, which should be facilitated by untying certain administrative or regulatory locks.”
A short history of Uber scandals
The history of the Uber platform, created in 2010, has been peppered with scandals of harassment, hacking, industrial espionage, and legal wrangling in France as in other countries.
From the start, the multinational has been blackmailing its employees in dozens of countries. The American giant, which fiercely defends its use of self-employed status, has been ordered to grant employees status or to come close to it.
In 2021, the British courts ended five years of litigation, requiring Uber to guarantee a minimum wage and paid holidays to its drivers. A world first. Two months later, a historic agreement allows Uber’s 70 000 drivers to be represented by a union.
Shortly afterward, the French and Dutch courts ruled that the drivers were under an employment contract. In 2019, California considered the group’s drivers as employees. Uber counterattacks in 2020 by having the drivers’ self-employed status approved by referendum. But a judge ruled that the referendum was unconstitutional. Uber is appealing.
After a hefty tax reassessment in Denmark, the booking platform is prosecuted for complicity in illegal activity and pays a fine of 3,3 million euros in 2020 to avoid a trial. In France, Uber has also been investigated for “concealed work” since 2015.
And at the end of June, Uber reached an agreement with a major Australian union to strengthen the rights of 100 000 drivers and food delivery workers after years of legal battles and negotiations.
Harassment and industrial espionage
Over the years, the company has also been plagued by various issues of harassment and industrial espionage. In 2017, for example, Uber, accused of tolerating a sexist, violent, and promiscuous culture, embarked on a major internal investigation. As a result, its co-founder, Travis Kalanick, is forced to resign for encouraging brutal managerial practices.
Twenty employees are fired after 215 complaints of inappropriate behavior and intimidation from employees worldwide.
Concerning industrial espionage, in 2017, the US justice system investigated suspected foreign bribery and the use of illegal software to spy on competitors or evade scrutiny by authorities. The former head of Uber’s “intelligence” then claims to have been paid 4,5 million dollars not to denigrate the company.
At the beginning of 2018, Waymo, a subsidiary of Google, accused Uber of having stolen technological secrets on autonomous driving. To settle the lawsuit, Uber is paying Waymo 245 million dollars.
In November 2017, Uber revealed that the data of 57 million of its users, customers, or drivers had been hacked. The company was informed as early as November 2016 and paid 100 000 dollars to the hackers to keep quiet.
France fined Uber 400 000 euros for hiding the hacking. The company also has to pay two fines of over 1 million euros in the Netherlands and the UK.