Culture

U.N. Women’s Partnership With Uber Dead Before It Even Began

CREDIT: Eric Risberg/AP

On March 10, Uber announced a global partnership with U.N. Women aimed at hiring 1 million women as drivers for the ride-sharing behemoth by 2020.

On March 13, U.N. Women called the whole thing off. According to comment given to ThinkProgress on Monday, UN Women said there never was a formal partnership.

The short-lived initiative was met with significant criticism due to Uber’s long and ugly track record of disregarding safety concerns from female riders and drivers. Looks like the going life span for poorly-thought-out corporate campaigns is a week or less; the Starbucks plan to start a conversation about racism and diversity by writing “race together” on the sides of coffee cups barely survived the weekend.

U.N. Women executive director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka announced the end of the alliance in a speech at the U.N.’s 59th session of the Commission on the Status of Women:

As we go forward, having listened to what you have to say… I want to assure you that not only are we listening, we are aligned. And I also want to assure you that U.N. Women will not accept the offer to collaborate on job creation with Uber. So you can rest assured about that.

The day before Mlambo-Ngcuka’s speech, a coalition led by global labor unions issued a statement at the conference that condemned the U.N.-Uber partnership: “the creation of 1 million precarious, informal jobs will not contribute to women’s economic empowerment and represents exactly the type of structural inequality within the labor market that the women’s movement has been fighting for decades.”

U.N. Women chief of communications and advocacy Nanette Braun told ThinkProgress via email that, although Uber “has provided sponsorship” for a 20th anniversary commemoration of the Beijing Platform for Action, “beyond this event, we have not discussed opportunities to engage with Uber, including in the context of their commitment to create 1 million jobs for women in the next five years. At this point, we do not plan to expand the collaboration.” (U.N. Women did not immediately respond to a request for a clarification as to whether this meant the partnership was canceled or that it never existed in the first place.)

The blog post trumpeting “U.N. Women + Uber= A Vision For Equality” has not been removed from Uber’s official blog. Uber issued the following statement to the media:

Uber was proud to sponsor the UN Women event last week, and we share their vision of accelerating economic opportunity for women globally. As part of our commitment to this vision, Uber set an ambitious goal to create 1 million jobs for women as drivers on the Uber platform by 2020. Uber will be seeking advice from U.N. Women and groups around the world on the best way to achieve the important goal of economic equality and opportunity for women.

The news of an Uber alliance with U.N. Women — or, more to the point, the declaration on Uber’s part that the company cared about the well-being of women — was met with widespread skepticism. Uber has a well-documented history of failing to ensure the safety of women in its cars. Women in Uber cars who become victims of harassment, kidnapping, violence or rape have brought their horror stories to Uber only to be brushed off by the company. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick blames the media for insisting Uber is “somehow liable for these incidents aren’t even real in the first place.”

At the time of the announcement, Emily May, executive director of Hollaback! (a non-profit dedicated to ending street harassment and ensuring gender equality in public spaces) told ThinkProgress that Uber’s association with the U.N. was “probably some calculated PR move on their part to try and figure out how they can make people feel safer without actually acknowledging that many women haven’t been safe while riding Uber.”

“When we see all this stuff coming after such high-profile assaults,” she said. “It’s almost like a token gesture. It doesn’t feel real.”

Turns out it wasn’t real, after all.