From eco-friendly to freelancer-friendly

Jul 1, 2013

The other day I read this interesting story in The New York Times about a feud between two environmental certification groups, each trying to become the dominant authority on "green-ness" in the paper industry.

But there’s fierce competition in the enviro-certification business, and it’s easy to see why: More consumers are looking behind the label to make sure the things they buy are eco-friendly, and the market for green products is now about $500 billion a year. Fascinating.

It’s time to start paying attention to a company’s priorities, to make sure they jibe with our own.

I think freelancers need to take a page from the environmental movement and when we do business with a company, look behind the label to see what they’re about.

All kinds of companies are now trying to woo freelancers as customers. We’re seeing jobs marketplaces, staffing firms, co-working spaces and share-economy companies—and that’s just the beginning.

These companies provide great services. I can't tell you how many of our members use oDesk, Elance, GumRoad, TaskRabbit, Etsy, Airbnb and Fiverr.

We work in co-working spaces, share cars and apartments and power tools, and pick up gigs through third-party providers. All of that is fine.

But it's time for us to start paying attention to a company's priorities and values, to make sure they jibe with our own.

What’s their business model, and do they have freelancers’ best interests in mind? Which companies are locally-owned, which are investor-owned? Where is the money going? Who shares in the profits? How is the company managed? (What kinds of pesticides do they use? Where do they get their meat?)

You get where I’m going with this. Environmentalists started asking questions about how products are made, and more companies went green. We can start choosing to do business with companies that have freelancer-friendly practices.

Freelancers need to come up with our own criteria and certification system, to encourage companies to behave in socially responsible ways that benefit us and help provide long-term financial security. "Freelancer-friendly" should have its own cachet.

Maybe that means pushing companies to share a larger percentage of profits with members, or supporting locally-owned companies that employ freelancers. Maybe it means working with companies that have a cooperative ownership structure rather than a corporate structure. Maybe it’s all of the above. Maybe you have other ideas.

We’ve seen movements successfully push companies to change their business practices by having thousands of people do one simple act: Look behind the label.

The organic farming, fair-trade coffee and local-food movements gained traction as consumers became more educated about food production and start paying attention to labels.

Now, those stamps of approval have cachet. Companies brag about their hormone-free, organically-grown, locally-sourced, free-range products. It’s become a marketing tool, as consumers have proved willing to pay a premium for these products.

We need to start drawing up our list of values. "Freelancer-friendly" should have its own cachet.

Sara Horowitz

As the founder of Freelancers Union, Sara has been a voice for freelancers for over two decades.