CORONAVIRUS/COVID-19 · Net News

The ethics of outsourcing our risks to Instacart 

TA-FC ClipBoard: I’m all for better work conditions for all people, no matter their economic status. I live in a senior residence that recently was converted to public housing to justify, in part, all the non-seniors living here. That being said, I am a senior in the lower economic group, told to shelter in place, yet I still need groceries.

If I thought a delivery person was risking their life by shopping for me (as indicated in this article), I would have found another way – and I did by doing my own local shopping – at risk to me, not everybody else. I wore protective gear, everybody else didn’t.

Seniors, the most at risk during the coronavirus crisis, were not handed our sanitizer and face masks – the government via management of this facility just told us to stay home and NO ONLINE SHOPPING, since they didn’t want delivery people in the building who could be carrying coronavirus with them in addition to our packages. All essential packages were to be funneled through the office.

  • By the way, I found my own hand sanitizer and used a scarf for a face mask and I already had disposable gloves on hand, which I also used.

There’s a wholesale/retail food store a couple blocks away. I went to their website and saw they delivered. Free delivery. So why not, since I was purchasing large cans (106 oz.) and wouldn’t be able to carry them home.

I placed my order. I gave my phone number, since the pass card mechanism in the front of the building was dismantled not allowing anyone to use the front entrance. The delivery person texted me when they were approaching.

I met the delivery person at the side entrance. If I hadn’t been there, they would have left, since we discovered that many people didn’t know how to use the buzzer system, so didn’t. Maybe they couldn’t read English. Steve even said it was confusing.

Two boxes were brought in. I was given a receipt that was from the store. Around $88.00. The standard tip was almost $5.00. I didn’t add to it. I took the cans out of the box, put them in a cart and took them upstairs.

When I placed the order, I was asked whether I wanted substitutions if the store was out of a particular product. It gave boxes for me to check if I did. There were no boxes to check if I didn’t, so I left them blank. The reason I didn’t want substitutions is that I don’t eat animal products and I didn’t want to risk a substitution that may contain animal.

Well, they substituted. Luckily the subs didn’t contain animal products, but still, they shouldn’t have subbed.

I ordered a large (106 oz.) can of Bush’s Vegetarian Bean Pot. It wasn’t in the box, yet online it claimed I received it. The receipt claimed I received a store brand of baked beans, which I didn’t.

When I compared the store receipt the delivery person handed me, to the receipt sent to me by the delivery person via email, there was an increase from 50 cents to a dollar plus over the store receipt price.

In addition to the automatic tip (I always tip and always tip well, no matter my personal financial circumstance), there was a service fee and a delivery fee – each was in the close to 5 dollar range.

As it turns out free delivery was only for specific brand items if I bought that particular brand in bulk – so the advertising was misleading. Also, when I went to the store’s website that said they delivered, I had no idea that INSTACART wasn’t them.

Each time I went back to the website to try to chat with someone or to ask questions there was no means, except to rate by stars my experience. I didn’t do that. I wanted to tell someone I was charged for two items I didn’t receive and that some items were subbed when I didn’t check the sub boxes.

In their policy section it explained the part of the uptick in individual items. Okay, now that’s explained. I had to do a lot of reading. They should tell you up front that they’re essentially acting as a convenience store – they buy items at grocery stores then resell them to the public at higher prices.

Their policy explains how to contact them with concerns, yet every time I clicked the link, the delivery person’s face would pop up for me to pick a ratings star. It was like Facebook, when you have an issue, they don’t get back, but claim your input will help them to provide better service. But even Facebook allows you to write your concern, not just rate by stars.

I finally gave up on it – decided to absorb the twenty or so dollars I was overcharged – and decided never to use INSTACART again.

Richard Zitrin, a lecturer on ethics at UC Hastings law school in San Francisco, told me [David Lazarus] it’s neither unethical nor immoral to hire others to perform tasks we may view as unpleasant or even dangerous.

“But it’s important to recognize the lack of equality among members of society,” he said, noting that the people who can afford to use delivery services may enjoy economic advantages that delivery workers do not share.“

I take issue with Richard Zitrin who would even raise the questions of morality and ethics of ordering groceries from a store that says they deliver.

I further take issue with Richard Zitrin’s elitist attitude toward people who order groceries from stores that deliver – saying that we can afford to use delivery services and enjoy economic advantages that delivery people don’t share. That sounded like he was shaming people who use delivery services, because they in his view have economic advantages the delivery people don’t have.

I wonder if that includes stealing – is it morally and ethically acceptable to steal a few items from each customer, as long as the delivery people don’t speak much English or are assumed to be in a low income bracket because they’re delivering groceries? Does that apply to pizza delivery people too? How about restaurant delivery people? Do they work just for tips? The article didn’t address the service fee and delivery fee, nor the convenience store status.

Is INSTACART licensed as a convenience store? Because that’s what they are.

So, to get my order delivered I paid close to $15.00 for someone to drive a block and drop them at the side entrance. Still, I’m not complaining about that. What they should do is be up front about the costs and how they’re calculated. Seniors are easy targets for fraud. And for sure they should have a link on their website to contact someone when the order delivered isn’t accurate.

There were two delivery people in the car. The woman got out and carried the boxes one at a time to the door. The man stayed in the car.

When I started emptying the boxes, all of a sudden I looked up and the man was there close – staring at me straight in the eyes with a scorn – as he asked if I wanted to tip them. I explained that I already tipped on the website when I ordered.


Like I said, I support worker rights – across the board, but this pity article was over-the-top.

Back to Richard Zitrin. If I have to take into consideration all the social issues of the day every time I shop for something, I’ll stop shopping. My life is already over-run and over-worked with social issues.

Maybe Richard should have included all low income people, including seniors who basically were required to get their groceries via delivery, rather than go out and risk getting coronavirus from people who didn’t take seriously their vulnerability. The delivery people could have worn a scarf over their mouths; they didn’t. They could have kept at a distance; they didn’t. Instead, especially the man, got in very close – too close for my comfort.

To David Lazarus: Outsourcing my coronavirus risk? Okay, I get it. That’s a catchy title. But what does it mean? I hire someone to get my groceries for me. Well, not really. Many stores before the virus crisis hit already delivered. Dropping goods off at the door isn’t much of a risk. These same delivery people of whom you speak shop for themselves in these same stores without any thought to risk – otherwise they’d be wearing protection.

There aren’t many old-timer delivery people – though I have seen a few UBER drivers of senior age or near senior age, who were either retired or supplementing income. It’s unfortunate that this article without anybody even saying it, made a comparison between delivery people and fruit/vegetable/tobacco pickers/slaughterhouse workers as “jobs nobody else wants”.

So what the essay is really saying is that immigrants, especially recent immigrants who may not have the skills nor the fluency in English to obtain a job that required skill and fluency to perform it well, should be subsided by privileged people who can afford to have their groceries delivered. How so? With large tips? How large? The people I know who work at taverns, restaurants and bars in Cleveland get a fairly low base pay, because they get tips.

The minimum tip at least for me was near $5.00. That’s automatic without having to give good service. Even if I had given a $20.00 tip in addition to the $15.00 service/delivery/tip fees, how much money can this delivery person make a day? The article didn’t speak to wage. So I don’t know what the wage is. But, say the delivery person delivers to ten people a day, that’s $25.00 x 10 = $250.00 a day plus wages.

If they get $5.00 per person (meaning no added tip) that = $50.00 a day plus wages.

Who, on an $88.00 order plus $15.00 of fees, is going to give in addition $20.00? Once maybe. But not on a regular basis.

If the point of this article was to make people think of inequality by shaming them, thus making them feel badly, don’t you think people have enough to feel badly about, without you seeking to make people feel even more uncomfortable?

Frankly, I choose not to stay around people who intentionally seek to make others feel uncomfortable. It’s a sadistic strategy.

At this point you’re probably thinking maybe this article reached the wrong person – 1 in how many even read it? But I had already had the experience with INSTACART before I saw the article in my email inbox.

Perhaps you could have stuck with employee conditions, rather than dump it all on the shoulders of people you wrongly assumed to be privileged.

Yeah, I’m outsourcing my coronavirus risks. Sounds like I’m a company unto myself making executive decisions on who gets sick and/or dies and who doesn’t.

Way over the top. It’s too easy to shame the fruit-eater instead going after the companies that employ the fruit-pickers.

It’s like shaming the drug-users rather than going after the drug cartels.


Los Angeles Times

April 6, 2020

I’m Business columnist David Lazarus, with a look today at the way consumers are outsourcing their coronavirus risk.

These are boom times for delivery services. Amazon, FedEx, UPS — they’re all reporting huge increases in deliveries as consumers navigate the stay-at-home pandemic with online orders for everything from food and household staples to upgrades for home-entertainment systems.Amazon says it’s hiring 100,000 more workers to keep up with demand. Record downloads are being logged for grocery-delivery apps.

And that brings us to an intriguing moral and economic issue. Just as many consumers have outsourced their driving to Uber and Lyft, and their pickup of to-go restaurant orders to Grubhub, DoorDash and Postmates, they’re outsourcing the risk of venturing to the supermarket to Instacart and similar services that fill shopping carts on customers’ behalf. Instacart said last month that its sales growth rate had increased by as much as 20 times in California and other hard-hit states as a result of the pandemic.

The company’s founder and chief executive, Apoorva Mehta, said Instacart plans to hire 300,000 more shoppers to prowl supermarket aisles as proxies for anxious consumers.

“The last few weeks have been the busiest in Instacart’s history,” he said. “Today, the role we play and the responsibility we have takes on an entirely new meaning.”

Richard Zitrin, a lecturer on ethics at UC Hastings law school in San Francisco, told me it’s neither unethical nor immoral to hire others to perform tasks we may view as unpleasant or even dangerous.

“But it’s important to recognize the lack of equality among members of society,” he said, noting that the people who can afford to use delivery services may enjoy economic advantages that delivery workers do not share.“

Anyone who doesn’t recognize that reality is kidding themselves,” Zitrin said.

To be sure, the history of capitalism is the history of paying people to do tasks others don’t want to do. It can be argued that as long as people take on such work willingly, and are treated well and compensated fairly, there’s nothing inherently wrong with this.

That matter of fair compensation, though, is a topic for debate. How much of a premium should be charged when people literally may be putting their life on the line to get you groceries and toilet paper?

Some Instacart workers went on strike last week to seek improved conditions. Among other things, they’re asking for protective supplies such as hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes, higher default tips and hazard pay.

The advocacy group Gig Workers Rising is seeking signatures for a petition calling on California policymakers to protect drivers and delivery folk. “By signing, you help to ensure workers have access to benefits like paid sick leave, disability, family leave and unemployment insurance,” the group says.

My wife and I have received one big delivery from Instacart since the pandemic erupted and we were very pleased with the service. We got most of what we wanted, and the woman who dropped our groceries at the front door couldn’t have been nicer.We thanked her profusely. And we tipped generously.

When you’re outsourcing risk, that’s the least you can do.


Source: The ethics of outsourcing our risks to Instacart – sharonleedaviestight@gmail.com – Gmail