A media report about hazardous work conditions for China’s courier drivers went viral this week, eliciting pledges from delivery platforms Eleme and Meituan to improve, spurring criticism from the government.

Why it matters: Criticism of food delivery platforms for pushing drivers to work in unsafe conditions is not new.

  • A response from the consumer protection bureau criticizing the response from Meituan and Eleme signals that authorities may step in.

READ MORE: Food delivery: Drivers take the risks. Platforms reap the rewards.

Details: Delivery drivers are overburdened with too many orders, inaccurate navigation systems, and payment algorithms that punish drivers for inevitable delays like red lights or waiting for the elevator in a customer’s building, according to an article (in Chinese) published Tuesday by the Chinese platform, People (Renwu).

  • Drivers must meet strict delivery time limits—Meituan’s is 30 minutes. Delivering an order even a few minutes late results in lower pay and potentially a bad review from a customer. The time limit for drivers to make deliveries is the same even in bad weather.
  • Eleme released a statement (in Chinese) on Wednesday announcing it would quickly roll out an option for users to add five or 10 minutes to their delivery time. It also promised not to punish drivers with good customer service histories for delivering late orders.
  • Meituan followed Wednesday evening with its own announcement about new policies. The platform will give drivers eight minutes of “flexible” time as opposed to five and extend the ride’s delivery time during poor weather. It is developing “smart” helmets and “smart” food pickup cabinets to better serve customers and drivers. 
  • The efforts didn’t please everyone. “The [overtime] behavior of the courier is not caused by the consumer. This is a logic that needs to be emphasized again and again,” said Tang Jiansheng, deputy secretary general of the Shanghai Consumer Protection Commission, according to a report from The Paper. 
  • Tian argued that the fundamental logic of Eleme’s statement is flawed because it impacts the consumer rather than the company that designed the system. 

Context: China’s estimated 3 million delivery drivers pushed through rain and snow during the Covid-19 lockdown speedily deliver food, medicine, and other supplies.