Since 2015, Ana Pellegrini is General Counsel of Uber Brasil. In this interview, Ms. Pellegrini discusses the challenges of heading the legal department of Uber's second largest consumer market, the benefits of a strong culture of diversity and the Superior Labor Court's (TST) recent decision on the inexistence of a labor relationship between Uber and its drivers.
Leaders League. What are the main challenges and advantages of heading the Brazilian legal department of global ride-hailing market leader, Uber?
Ana Pellegrini. Heading the legal department of Uber, in Brazil, is in itself a challenge. Uber is such an amazing company. We help to move people and things from one place to another in a more efficient way than ever before and provide opportunities for people to make money for themselves and their families. We currently do this through a range of products such as Rides, which most people are familiar with, but also Uber Eats, Uber Freight and UberElevate. We are present in over 10,000 cities and 69 countries, with around 21 million trips taking place on the Uber app every day.
With over 3.9 million drivers worldwide, Uber offers an economic opportunity to more people than any other company on the planet. Our business model reaches so many corners of the world, that you become acutely aware of the public responsibility which you have. Countless cities are increasingly relying on our platform’s data to assist with better urban planning decision-making and to become more sustainable places for their citizens to live and work. To be a part of this transformation and, even more so, to be an engine for positive change and to advise on the development of public policies is extraordinarily exciting.
Particularly within technology companies such as Uber, where a premium is placed on both innovation and speed, the general counsel is extremely important. I always focus on the ‘counsel’ part. You cannot accept this role and think of yourself as a lawyer. You have to think of yourself as a counselor on legal, business, compliance, policy and reputational issues.
I don’t recall our general managers in Brazil ever asking me what the law is one this or what the law is on that. They need to know our legal approach but what they are truly looking for is counsel. That is what I want all of my lawyers in the legal department to think of themselves as – business partners who provide sound legal counsel to their business colleagues.
Brazil is Uber’s second-largest consumer market worldwide, with approximately 22 million users and 600,000 registered drivers. In light of this, could you give us an idea of the size and organization of your legal department in Brazil?
Currently our team in Brazil is composed of five areas: (i) labor & employment; (ii) litigation; (iii) regulatory; (iv) product and commercial; and (v) UberEats.
Within our legal department we have placed diversity and inclusion at the forefront. It is a priority for Uber as well as for our team. Having diversity within our legal team is vitally important and not just gender diversity, but all types of diversity including background, ethnicity, sexual orientation, nationality, etc. Besides always being the right thing to do, having the diversity of thought and perspective which different types of people bring, this also reflects the diversity of the people that we serve and, in my view, ensures we make better decisions.
On February 5th, Brazil’s Superior Labor Court (TST) ruled, in a landmark decision, that there is no employment bond between a São Paulo-based driver and Uber. What does this decision mean for Uber and, in a wider context, for Brazil’s new digital economy?
This decision recognizes what really happens on our platform: we play the role of electronic intermediation between people who want to be transported and drivers who want to transport them. The relationship between drivers and Uber is innovative and does not fit into the rules provided by the Brazilian Labor Code. Undoubtedly there should be a new legal paradigm which fits today’s reality and today’s economy, however, this does not mean individuals who use our platform should be considered our employees.
The decision was unanimous and recognized that drivers have the flexibility to decide whether or not to use the app. The TST recognized that the autonomy and flexibility which drivers have are incompatible with an employment bond. Moreover, the decision highlights that drivers typically earn between 75% and 80% of the total fare, reinforcing the partnership aspect between Uber and drivers.
This decision complements another ruling issued by Brazil’s Superior Court of Justice (STJ), on August 28th, 2019, which also found that there is no labor relationship between Uber and a former driver.
In Brazil, this is the first time that a Superior Labor Court decides that there is no subordination between a driver using the Uber app and the company. This decision consolidates the 75 favorable rulings handed down by the Brazilian State Court of Appeals and the more than 240 favorable decisions granted before the lower courts.