E-Commerce Galley Slaves

Men wear face masks as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 novel coronavirus as they use their mobile phones in Phnom Penh on March 18, 2020. (Photo: AFP)

You type on your mobile phone and, a few minutes later, the pizza you ordered is delivered, still warm, ready to be shared with your family or colleagues at home or at work.

Life is so simple nowadays. As one of those home delivery services says in its advertisement: Order now and you will be served today. Because in this digital era, we want to get everything at our fingertips and, especially, immediately.



As a result, a horde of delivery people nowadays crisscross Phnom Penh. They can often be seen in blue, orange and pink groups depending on the color of their companies’ uniform, patiently waiting in groups for orders to deliver. At that point, before he gets an order, the delivery person looks like anyone else, peacefully chatting and joking in the shade with his colleagues.    



But his true nature is revealed when he gets an order to deliver. With his precious order in his motorcycle trunk—maybe a pizza that you are waiting for with impatience, being the important person in a hurry that you are—he suddenly turns into another man. Weaving in and out between vehicles with the determination of someone flying to the rescue of an unfortunate person in distress, he rushes, risking his life to carry out his mission: to deliver your pizza before it gets cold.   



To reach your door as quickly as possible, your delivery person will have taken every risk on the road, jumping red lights, zigzagging in-between cars, using sidewalks and going the wrong way down streets. Going as fast as possible with complete disregard for his own safety and the safety of the other road users to deliver your pizza still warm, this is what is he compelled to do in order to earn a living. 



In this world of online consumption at the start of which we live today, mobile phone screens make the human side of things fade away as if everything was working like a bank transaction that we want, of course, as inexpensive as possible.



But your pizza still requires a delivery person to get to you. To forget him is in a way considering him like one of those galley slaves of past eras who were chained to their oars and who were flogged to make their master’s ship move forward. Like an insignificant cog of the e-consumption, he is chained to his moto with, playing on a loop in his head, this message saying in a robotic voice: fast, faster!    



Since it is consumers—you and I—who, behind our mobile phones, set the rules on the home delivery market, couldn’t we demand that companies in this field guarantee a service done in keeping with the security of their employees and the others using streets and roads? There could be a label singling out companies signing up to this “security agreement.” Then up to them to develop, in consultation with their employees, an operating model that would make this possible.    


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