What is The Price of Your Instant Groceries?

From food to monthly groceries to your outfits, you can get anything in the blink of an eye, but at what cost?

“At your doorstep in X minutes” is a tagline that’s growing prominent amongst various delivery services. It seems like everywhere you turn there is another business making another lofty promise of providing you with their product in mind-boggling, constantly getting shorter delivery times. As consumers, that is arguably a good thing, as an ad from Zepto (an Indian grocery delivery app launched in the latter half of last year) makes sure to tell you: if you missed out on something on your monthly groceries list, do not fret! Just use their app and you will be provided with whatever you need in 10 minutes or less!

That seems like an amazing deal. With the boom of e-commerce, we have been moving more and more of our transactions online and simultaneously getting more and more impatient with how long it takes for our packages to be delivered; these instant delivery apps – whether it be groceries like Blinkit (formally Grofers) or food like Swiggy – merely try to keep up with our demands. However, the problem with such a promise in India, which is home to 3 of the top 15 most congested cities in the world, is that the burden of fulfilling them largely falls on delivery workers – who have barely any protection against the risks of working in this crazy environment.  This burden is showing its consequences, as the number of delivery app workers involved in two wheeler accidents continues to increase.

As freelance writer Shubham Agarwal (writing for The Verge) found in his research and correspondence with delivery drivers from Instamart, Swiggy and more: the people working these jobs make about 3500 Rs. and are provided little to no insurance in the case of potential accidents – which are unfortunately, plenty and rising.

A delivery worker working for Instamart (Swiggy’s grocery service) met with an accident trying to rush to finish an order (to obtain a time related bonus) that may mean he can never work again. Swiggy covered the initial medical costs, but the 35-year-old does not have a source of income to support his family, which was already surviving paycheck to paycheck. Another driver delivering for Swiggy’s main food delivery business met with an accident and was denied financial help because Swiggy’s systems showed incorrectly that he was off duty. The latter has thankfully recovered and now works for Zomato which did not make instant delivery promises at the time (unfortunately, Zomato has recently announced a new 10-minute delivery policy as well).

The majority of delivery apps generally offer a bonus to delivery workers who complete deliveries throughout long hours while keeping consistently razor thin delivery times. Instead of raising the base pay they run peak time windows during which, completing orders gets you pay bonuses. For most of these workers, who can barely keep their household running on the base pay check, this bonus is often the difference in providing their family’s next meal. With these insanely high stakes, there is no other option for these gig workers but to risk their own health to complete orders. Within India’s busy metropolitan streets, that’s often a deadly game.

The firms themselves claim to be attempting to optimise their warehouses instead of pushing delivery workers to go faster. They explain that there only need be enough warehouses (or “dark stores”) in the nearby area to enable deliveries to be completed on time. Blinkit claims its “average distance of delivery in most locations is now under 900 metres” and that it “can pick and pack an average order within 60 seconds.”

Our delivery partners spend way more time at the entry gates and guard posts than they do on the road.

Naina Sahni, Chief People Officer, Blinkit

In addition to this, these businesses also refute claims that insurance to their workers isn’t available. Blinkit writes, “There have been 7 insurance claims by our partners in the last year. Roughly one claim for every 6 million orders delivered.”

However, delivery workers themselves would beg to differ as three Blinkit drivers told The Verge that they were unable to get compensation after being victims of road accidents. In fact, the process to obtain compensation is in itself a complicated process that is beyond the reach of a largely uneducated workforce.

The head of the Indian Federation of App-Based Transport Workers, Shaik Salauddin, isn’t surprised by the rising number of incidents and claims to be getting more and more complaints from workers seeking help in gaining compensation from their employers. He argues that fulfilling these delivery times are inhumane, impossible and only create increasing risks. His concerns are echoed by local police stations as well.

Accidents involving delivery workers have at least doubled per week, and although most of them are not fatal, we’re concerned whether this 10-minute trend will escalate these cases.

A senior police officer in conversation with The Verge

Shaik often tries to force firms to take responsibility by either shaming them on social media or by requesting sources inside the companies to review these incidents as a priority. Salauddin and the police stations’ concerns are justified as quick commerce is expected to grow by 10-15 times in the next five years in India.

I don’t stop at signals. The electric bikes are not stopped by the traffic police. I have been lucky; but some other riders have met with accidents and fortunately escaped with minor injuries.

Zepto delivery agent in conversation with The Hindu

This is, clearly, a worsening problem. With a new death caused by these insane delivery promises everyday we must take a step back and evaluate our priorities. Is our impatience for that next meal worth a human life?

A positive sign for this problem though is that these workers are not yet ready to give up on this industry that they have had a huge part in building. Over the past few months there has been a shift as workers start to hold their employers accountable through anonymous twitter accounts, in-person protests, and mass walk-outs. There is an uprising to secure their safety and futures and it is important for us as consumers to respect and support them. After all, what sane society makes its workers choose between their safety or delivering a burger?

Read Also: Snapdeal V/S Sarojini: A Never-Ending Dissension

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Featured image Credits: Economic Times

Siddharth Kumar

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Siddharth is your guy for doing anything that would make a legen-wait-for-it-dary story. However, if you find him, get ready for him talking your ear off about how Van Gogh is the greatest artist to walk the earth, Doctor Who is the best show ever and how the Ancient Greeks had a point.