How to enhance the working conditions and wellbeing of vulnerable workers is a topic of growing importance. This study examines the use of two-sided labor market platforms as a private governance solution to protect vulnerable workers in contexts where the power dynamics between employers and workers are highly unequal. Specifically, we collaborated with a Singapore-based online platform that connects foreign domestic workers with employers (families). In this setting, it is not uncommon for workers to be mistreated by employers via various forms of exploitation and abuse. The collaborating platform was interested in exploring whether introducing a new rating system that allows workers to rate employers could improve this situation for workers. Accordingly, we randomized communication about such a rating system and examined how each side of the platform reacted. We found that employers did not respond positively to the rating system, though their negative reaction was offset if they were nudged to consider the instrumental benefits of the intervention for them. Surprisingly, workers also disliked the idea of the rating system, despite it being intended to protect and empower them. Post-hoc analysis and interviews suggest that the most vulnerable workers were particularly concerned about the employer-rating system. Our paper illustrates that, in settings with large power differentials, platform governance mechanisms intended to help vulnerable workers could have unintended negative consequences. It thus highlights the importance of understanding the nuanced determinants of vulnerable workers’ challenges when considering whether platform governance might improve or exacerbate them.
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