A food delivery man in India has been fired after a video that showed him eating a customer’s order went viral.
The video shows a balding man dressed in a red T-shirt with a red delivery bag on his motorbike. The T-shirt reads “Zomato,” a popular online food delivery company in India.
The man is parked at the side of a road. He uses a spoon to skim a few bites from a container of food he’s opened, puts the lid back on, then picks another container and does the same thing. He puts the containers back in a plastic bag and reseals the bag with tape.
This happened in the southern Indian city of Madurai.
The incident prompted outrage and jokes on social media. People lambasted the company for having poor standards and shared the video as a cautionary tale against using online food delivery services.
But after news broke that Zomato had sacked the delivery man, the online discussion turned sympathetic. It sparked a debate about exploitation of workers by India’s burgeoning online food delivery industry.
Rajyasree Sen, who writes columns on food, pop culture and politics for several Indian newspapers and online publications, says the incident highlights a larger problem in Indian society: socioeconomic disparity.
For folks who “have more food than we know what to do with,” she says, it’s easy to ask: Why on earth would a delivery man do something like this?
To answer that question, you need to take a look at the life of India’s delivery personnel.
Companies call them delivery “executives” but their wages and working conditions tell a different story.
According to popular job search sites, food delivery companies say they’ll pay an employee around $250 a month. That may put them in the top 20 percent earners in the country but it’s barely enough to live in cities (where most food delivery apps operate) as the cost of living is also higher. In media interviews, delivery persons have described how they have to work long hours, since they are typically paid per delivery — roughly $1 per order.
And if they need to take a break, they lose out on potential income. There are plenty of other delivery persons to step in. Zomato has a fleet of more than 150,000 drivers. Swiggy, an app-based food delivery service, has 100,000 active delivery people.
Swiggy delivery “executives” went on strike in December to protest a proposed drop in the per-delivery fee they earn.
What’s more, customers don’t always appear to appreciate the delivery person. “It is a horrible job because of the way people treat you,” says op-ed columnist Sen. Even in the height of summer, she says, a lot of customers would not even offer a glass of water to a delivery man.
As to the video: In an official blog post, Zomato called the occurrence “highly unusual and a rare case.”
“We take this very seriously and will soon introduce tamper-proof tapes and other precautionary measures to ensure we add an extra layer of safeguard against such behaviour,” the company said in its statement.
Companies need to understand that delivery people often ferry food that they themselves may not be able to afford, says Sen.
“[Companies] either need to give food coupons or need to give [delivery agents] one meal a day,” she says.
Commentators noted that the outrage against the video exposes a lack of empathy among India’s elite.
“Instead of insisting that Zomato, Swiggy and the other delivery services protect our precious parcels from ravenous riders, perhaps we should take to Twitter and ask them to give their employees better working conditions and quality of life,” wrote Dushyant Shekhawat, who comments on political and social issues, in an op-ed piece.
Online food delivery companies like Swiggy and Zomato are fairly new — they launched within the last 5 years — but have transformed how Indians eat. Zomato boasts 21 million orders a month and is available in 38 cities across India as of September. The value of the company Swiggy crossed the $1 billion mark this year. It caters to customers in 57 towns and cities.
Online food delivery in India is a $7 billion industry.
Sushmita Pathak is NPR’s producer in Mumbai.