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Global Economy

"UBER Files" – the aggressive years of the car service agent

According to internal documents, San Francisco-based ride-hailing service provider Uber persuaded politicians to relax labor and taxi laws between 2013 and 2017. Documents that have now been published provide insights into the US company's aggressive business practices at the time.

According to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), the so-called UBER Files span a five-year period when the company was run by its co-founder, Travis Kalanick.

They reveal for the first time how a $90 million a year lobbying and PR budget has funded attempts to persuade fellow leaders across Europe to relax employment rules.

Today's French President Emmanuel Macron, as Economics Minister, is said to have intervened with the authorities in Marseille at Uber's request because they had banned an Uber service – a few days later the ban was off the table. When asked, Macron explained that as Minister of Economics he had been in contact with many companies in the service sector.

And the former EU Commissioner Neelie Kroes organized meetings with top Dutch politicians for Uber, for example, during the waiting period in which high-ranking European politicians are not allowed to accept other lobbying jobs in their former area of responsibility – internally, the Uber management agreed on absolute discretion, Kroes name should not appear on any document. At the end of the waiting period, she officially joined the Uber advisory board and worked as a consultant for the group. When asked, the politician explained that she had never previously worked for the company, either formally or informally.

In Germany, Uber organized a major lobbying campaign led by former member of the Bundestag Otto Fricke (FDP). It was primarily about changing the Passenger Transport Act in the interests of the company. The Uber lobby intervened in the Ministry of Transport and with today's Chancellor Olaf Scholz, at the time First Mayor of Hamburg – with moderate success.

While several governments saw Uber as a source of growth and much-needed new jobs, taxi drivers in Paris and other cities, for example, protested violently against the company. For many, the Uber business model was synonymous with general job insecurity and precarious work.

Uber says its "aggressive behavior in the past is not consistent with today's values" and that it is a "different company" today.

In the early days, the company, which was founded in 2008, tried to partially establish its US model in Europe as well, in which private individuals transport passengers in their own cars. After regulators intervened, Uber gave up the practice, but tensions with the taxi industry and authorities remained high for years.

According to the Süddeutsche Zeitung, "more than 124,000 documents" were leaked to the British daily newspaper The Guardian, which shared them with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and 42 other international partners. In total, more than 180 journalists from 29 countries worked on the documents for four months. In Germany, the SZ was involved in the research, the NDR and the WDR.

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