A photo of an undercover police officer posing as a Deliveroo rider circulated widely on social media this weekend, resurfacing discussions about restaurant delivery companies’ relationship with the Metropolitan Police.
The officer in question was seen outside a Pret a Manger in Finsbury Park, as reported by Vice, with the photograph having been taken by Vice writer Simon Doherty. When approached by Eater regarding the video and its relationship with the police, a Deliveroo spokesperson said “The MET police have come to us on occasions to support with very specific operations. As the general public would expect, we will support the authorities in tackling crime where we can.”
While police don’t need explicit permission to access the branded paraphernalia of food delivery companies and use it, Deliveroo and competitor Uber Eats have a history of collaborating with U.K. police. A Guardian report in 2018, for instance, detailed how officers would impersonate riders on operations relating to the theft of mopeds and bicycles.
Deliveroo and Uber Eats are not the first food businesses to cooperate with or assist police operations, and they won’t be the last. Byron Burger’s infamous “staff meeting” that was in fact a choreographed immigration raid remains a stain on its reputation. But the circulation of this photo, now, has led to further discussion of the extent of their interactions with law enforcement, particularly with respect to the impact of those collaborations on the people of colour that make up a significant proportion of the company’s workforce. It’s heightened in the context of protests against police brutality and its anti-Blackness in the U.K. and abroad, following the killing of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis, in March.
Cooperation between delivery companies and the police have previously extended to immigration raids on undocumented workers who have been lent accounts by existing riders, a direct consequence of the “gig economy” model upon which both businesses run. In 2016, Deliveroo confirmed that it had assisted the police in a Home Office immigration raid on its training centre in Islington, in which three riders were arrested with the Home Office “pursuing their removal.” The Times reported in 2019 that Uber Eats had “offered to help the Home Office” in pursuing immigration raids against undocumented workers being leased accounts by riders already on the platform.
It’s a direct consequence partly because Deliveroo riders lost a high court battle over the right to collective bargaining in December 2018. The decision was predicated on the fact that workers are able to pass on a delivery to a substitute if they don’t wish to fulfill it, and therefore, technically do not “work for” Deliveroo during their hours. The leasing of accounts to undocumented workers is one of the consequences of this loophole; Deliveroo and Uber Eats, of course, make money regardless of who is riding the bike. Framing segments of the delivery economy as “legitimate” versus “illegitimate,” pitting riders with papers against those without, misses the fact that the precarity, low wages, and risks — stolen bikes, abuse — inherent to the workings of the major delivery apps are what lead riders to outsource their accounts to an even more desperate workers.
Deliveroo and Uber Eats assisting in raids and operations that may lead to deportations of those undocumented workers — rather than taking steps to reform their working models with more secure protections and rights for their riders that would make lending less common — only exacerbates the precarity that those workers face.