Uber’s European chief: ‘Resetting the moral compass is part of our change’

Pierre Dimitri Gore-Coty is vice-president and head for Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region at Uber. [Uber]

Following a difficult year that brought a new CEO at the helm, Uber is serious about listening to its drivers and policymakers, Pierre Dimitri Gore-Coty told EURACTIV. Now the company aims at becoming a multimodal mobility platform, integrating bike-sharing services or public transports.

Pierre Dimitri Gore-Coty is vice-president and head for Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region. He has been part of the company since September 2012.

Gore-Coty spoke with EURACTIV’s Jorge Valero.

From Uber’s standpoint, how do you see social protection evolving, considering uncertainty and instability are more common in the world of work?

Today there are three million people around the world that are using Uber to earn money in a company that did not exist eight years ago. When we ask people in Europe why they like to use apps like Uber, the number one thing that constantly comes up is the flexibility those platforms enable. It is about the idea that you can really fit your work around your life and not the other way around. There is a growing demand for those new forms of employment, independent and self-employment, across Europe and across the rest of the world.

But you also need protection…

What is very important is to think about how social protection should evolve from a world where it is mostly tied to the employer in the traditional labour system to a social framework that fully captures and protects those independent workers. At Uber, this is something we take extremely seriously. We announced two weeks ago a groundbreaking partnership with French insurance provider Axa. It’s the first of its kind and aims to provide a social protection to 150.000 drivers across Europe.

They will have insurance payments in the event of loss of income following injuries, health issues, paternity and maternity payments, a lot of things that traditionally fall under the traditional employment world. It is fully paid by Uber. This is how we think about adapting our model to make sure that those independent workers have the peace of mind they go after while preserving the flexibility they value. We have had very positive feedback since we launched it two weeks ago.

Ridesharing in Estonia

As Europe looks for models to facilitate a peaceful coexistence between taxi drivers and new ride-sharing platforms, like Uber or Taxify, Estonia offers a valid solution for both the traditional transport providers and the newcomers to share the market, while ensuring that the new digital ecosystem does not hamper consumers’ rights.

Your model also has an issue with taxation. How are you addressing the criticism about poor tax compliance of drivers and your own taxation?

In some countries, for example in Estonia, we have done partnerships with tax authorities to bring transparency to make easier for people to file tax declaration. Another thing is the taxation of companies like Uber. I think it is clear the way some of these multinational companies are taxed needs to evolve. But this evolution needs to stick to OECD principles. It is also important to say that companies like Uber belong to a very different family of companies than some of the global ‘tech’ giants in the sense that most of the value created is distributed on the ground in each of the countries where we operate in the form of the money that drivers earn. It is a fairly different model from some of the tech giants that you may think of when you think about taxation.

Do you think Uber pays its fair share of taxes?

Today Uber is a company that is losing money. It is not a profitable company. So that conversation is a bit premature. We are still in heavy investment mode. That is also why we are different compared with some of the companies you may have in mind. Second, a lot of the value if not the majority of the value is actually sitting on the ground or in the hands of drivers. Finally, we engage with tax authorities at the European and local level to think about how taxation of multinational companies should evolve. We will respect whatever rules are in place.

New EU tax on tech giants’ revenue is not ‘anti-US’, Moscovici insists

After half a year of intense debate and bickering between member states, the European Commission proposed on Wednesday (21 March) a new system for taxing digital companies that will charge large firms 3% of their revenue and will hit US tech giants like Google and Facebook.

Are you supportive of unions in Uber? Do you think it would be important in the future of the world of the on-demand economy?

There are many ways in which we engage with the drivers’ community. We believe this dialogue is very important. I don’t think we have done always a great job listening to the drivers’ partners and hearing their feedback. One of the pillars of our culture is listening, and it is something that I do a lot when I visit a city, sitting with drivers and hearing what their concerns are and how we respond. This partnership with Axa for social protection is purely the result of feedback with our drivers.

Has this listening culture been always there? Or is it part of the changes under the new leadership?

For me, it is an important change. I don’t think we have listened enough. The second part of that change is about resetting the moral compass of the company and putting integrity at the core of everything we do at Uber. Frankly, I think it is part of this new chapter we are writing under the leadership of the new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi.

Does that mean integrity was absent in the past and mistakes were made?

There were a lot of mistakes in the past. I don’t think no one would disagree with that if, for example, you think about a lot of the events in 2017. What it makes me very hopeful is the speed at which this company has changed and the strong willingness to open this dialogue with the policymakers in the cities we operate and think about those policy issues and embrace them as opposed to stay silent and avoid them. The example of coming out of the blue and paying a social insurance programme for all the drivers in Europe is something that I don’t think it would have happened three years ago in Uber.

Uber needs prior authorisations to operate, EU court says

EU judges ruled on Wednesday that Uber is a transport service, rather than a digital app, and therefore requires national authorities’ authorisation to operate in Europe.

The European Court of Justice ruling brought an end to your hopes of having a homogeneous regulatory approach in Europe. How does that affect your growth in Europe?

The court ruling on its own didn’t have a major impact in the sense that in most of the countries where we operate in Europe we were falling under the transport legislation. In some ways, it is a missed opportunity. It would have been easier to have a pan European approach to our model. But it brings us back to where we were: engaging locally in all the countries where we operate with the right policymakers to think about the regulation that should embrace the model we are after.

If I look at Europe, I still see pretty good but slow progress, which makes me optimistic. Last week a new law was voted in Croatia that clarifies the model that Uber is about. In Germany, a country where we made mistakes, the fact that they are modernising the transport regulation as part of the coalition agreement, represent some progress. I see things moving in the right direction in Europe but I also think there is still a big responsibility on us to engage and understand how Uber can work for Europeans and see how we can adapt our model to make that possible.

What would be the main vectors of growth for Uber in the future?

We are moving from just being about cars to be a multimodal mobility platform. Our ambition is to integrate different modes of transport helping people to combine them. This is why we bought a company called Jump, which is a bike-sharing company, and we will integrate it in the app in many places around the world. That is why we started doing partnerships with public transit companies, for instance in the US. If you look at Europe, it is one of the most mature places when it comes to mobility as service thinking. For instance, the bike-sharing service in Paris in 2017 was larger than all the US bike-sharing service, in just one European city.

Subscribe to our newsletters

Subscribe