Uber paid for studies that backed its business model, and is fighting disclosure of current lobbying efforts

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Uber Technologies Inc. reportedly paid high-profile academics in the United States and Europe to produce reports that could be used in the company’s lobbying, while continuing to fight a push to disclose more information about its current lobbying.

The Guardian reported Tuesday based on files leaked by a former Uber executive that the company paid academics hundreds of thousands of dollars to create and promote reports that justify the ride-hailing company’s business model — of using drivers it does not directly employ — as innovative and beneficial for society.

For more: Uber whistleblower — Company ‘massaged the facts to earn the trust of drivers, of consumers and of political elite’

In one example mentioned by the Guardian, a study cited in a 2016 news article did not disclose that it was backed by Uber and that one of its co-authors was an economist employed by the company. One of the co-authors of the study was quoted as calling Uber a “social game-changer.”

“Uber has a long history of buying research that presents a rosy picture of their business model,” said Ken Jacobs, chair of the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education, on Tuesday. “It is depressing when respected academics allow themselves to be used this way.”

Jacobs noted that it is therefore not surprising that independent studies come to “very different conclusions.” An example of this: Uber’s estimates of the hourly earnings of workers who use its platform are usually higher than those by others.

In response to MarketWatch’s question about whether Uber continues to pay academics to do research that is then used for lobbying, a company spokesman said: “In the rare cases when Uber has contributed financially or the authors are contracted by Uber, this information is clearly stated.” He also said the company’s “unpaid academic research partners are always contractually guaranteed the right to publish their findings.”

Shareholders have pushed for Uber
to more fully disclose its lobbying activities: The Teamsters have put the issue before the company’s investors for the past two years, coming close to passing their proposal this year.

See: Uber, Lyft face shareholder push to disclose how much they are spending in fight for new labor laws

The Teamsters’ proposal — which asked Uber to disclose more information beyond what it’s legally required to provide, such as recipients and payment amounts related to indirect lobbying efforts — received 45% of shareholder votes in May, up from the 31% of votes it secured last year. Uber’s board recommended against the proposal, saying the company already provides “industry-leading” information about its U.S. corporate political contributions and independent expenditures on its website.

“If you don’t have right facts to lobby with, you create them; it all feeds into the same multimillion-dollar influence campaign,” Michael Pryce-Jones, senior governance analyst for the Teamsters, told MarketWatch on Tuesday. “For investors, it raises exactly the same concerns: How much is Uber spending to secure favorable conditions for its business model and what reputational risks are being run?”

Uber stock increased 1.8% to $21.57 Tuesday, after falling 5.2% Monday, following the first reports stemming from the leaked documents being released over the weekend. Uber stock has declined 48.6% so far this year, as the S&P 500 index
has dropped 19.9%.


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