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What's Wrong With Rappi, Latin America's Star Of Uberization

Questions are beginning to mount about the fast-growing, tech-based company's business and hiring practices.

Rappi is present in seven Latin American countries.
Rappi is present in seven Latin American countries.
Salomón Kalmanovitz


BOGOTÁ — The billion-dollar startup Rappi is a prime example of the so-called "orange economy" — or creative economy, as it's also known —that Colombian President Iván Duque first championed as an author and continues to prioritize as head of state.

Little wonder that the delivery-service firm campaigned in his favor in the last elections, and that the candidate even appeared in a picture with the orange cap worn by Rappi delivery people. The company reflects the power of millennials, he said.

Rappi, a digital startup founded in 2015, is now present in seven Latin American countries. Tech firms like Rappi tend to outpace established regulations for taxes, social security contributions, work relations and other costs borne by traditional-economy firms. That's how Uber, the private taxi firm, avoids payment of car registration and insurance fees for its "partners' or secretive drivers, while Airbnb gets around hotel taxes when selling short-term flat rentals online.

One might say startups have more of an impact substituting traditional firms than in deepening existing markets. Yes, they reduce costs through economies of scale realized online. But they've also provoked opposition from those who lose out. In various cities worldwide, taxi drivers have launched campaigns demanding that Uber drivers meet the same requirements as taxis, and some cities have gone so far as to ban online cab hailing. Likewise, some cities are restricting flat rentals by global websites, as these reduce the availability of standard rentals while inflating real-estate prices.

They must take into account that this is a new economy.

Recently, Colombia's Trade and Industry Superintendency, which oversees markets and consumer rights, ruled that Rappi was running its online business "irresponsibly." It found that the company does not issue receipts, offers "rappicredits' rather than reimburse money on returned purchases, does not post accurate prices — often concealing additional costs, charges for canceled orders, fails to honor promotional offers, delivers late, mixes up orders, sometimes charges twice for a product, and charges bank cards without authorization.

The firm's "policy director" said he respected the authority, but has warned that "they must take into account that this is a new economy" and should consider how the "negative effects' of regulation could "discourage businesses." Rappi, in other words, should not be subject to the law.

The Labor Ministry, in the meantime, is now having to investigate an even more serious matter: work conditions in these new, "sharing" industries, which bypass all hiring and responsibility norms. Rappi pays nothing toward the healthcare and pensions of its "partners," as its employees are called. Nor does it pay insurance premiums for work accidents, which are frequent among the many cyclists it hires, or offer paid holidays. There is no severance pay either, and no promotion prospects in the firm.

What Rappi does offer its "partners' is: "Passion, Pride and Determination" and the chance to "Get active when you want." Needless to say, these kids will need a lot of that, as they work for just a few hours a day in precarious conditions with no prospects for the future.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

How Vulnerable Are The Russians In Crimea?

Ukraine has stepped up attacks on the occupied Crimean peninsula, and Russia is doing all within its power to deny how vulnerable it has become.

Photograph of the Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters with smoke rising above it after a Ukrainian missile strike.

September 22, 2023, Sevastopol, Crimea, Russia: Smoke rises over the Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters after a Ukrainian missile strike.

Kyrylo Danylchenko

This article was updated Sept. 26, 2023 at 6:00 p.m.

Russian authorities are making a concerted effort to downplay and even deny the recent missile strikes in Russia-occupied Crimea.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

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Media coverage in Russia of these events has been intentionally subdued, with top military spokesperson Igor Konashenkov offering no response to an attack on Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters in the Crimean city of Sevastopol, or the alleged downing last week of Russian Su-24 aircraft by Ukrainian Air Defense.

The response from this and other strikes on the Crimean peninsula and surrounding waters of the Black Sea has alternated between complete silence and propagating falsehoods. One notable example of the latter was the claim that the Russian headquarters building of the Black Sea fleet that was hit Friday was empty and that the multiple explosions were mere routine training exercises.

Ukraine claimed on Monday that the attack killed Admiral Viktor Sokolov, the commander of Russia's Black Sea Fleet. "After the strike on the headquarters of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, 34 officers died, including the commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. Another 105 occupiers were wounded. The headquarters building cannot be restored," the Ukrainian special forces said via Telegram.

But Sokolov was seen on state television on Tuesday, just one day after Ukraine claimed he'd been killed. The Russian Defense Ministry released footage of the admiral partaking in a video conference with top admirals and chiefs, including Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, though there was no verification of the date of the event.

Moscow has been similarly obtuse following other reports of missiles strikes this month on Crimea. Russian authorities have declared that all missiles have been intercepted by a submarine and a structure called "VDK Minsk", which itself was severely damaged following a Ukrainian airstrike on Sept. 13. The Russians likewise dismissed reports of a fire at the headquarters of the Black Sea Fleet, attributing it to a mundane explosion caused by swamp gas.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has refrained from commenting on the military situation in Crimea and elsewhere, continuing to repeat that everything is “proceeding as planned.”

Why is Crimea such a touchy topic? And why is it proving to be so hard to defend?

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