The Airbnb 'Movement' for Deregulation: How Platform-Sponsored Grassroots Lobbying is Changing Politics

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This report is about the ethics and transparency of corporate political organising. Its case study is Airbnb, one of the biggest companies in the ‘platform’ economy, which resources, mobilises and coordinates its landlords as political advocates to lobby for its preferred forms of regulation. Since 2008, numbers of short-term lettings, many of which might otherwise house permanent residents, have expanded dramatically. The associated problems, around housing shortages, tourism, taxation and urban conviviality, have led to social movement opposition and local attempts to regulate.

Airbnb’s use of grassroots lobbying, where businesses influence democratic institutions by creating and coordinating apparently independent social movements to act on their behalf, has been key in their response. Airbnb presents carefully curated and intensively coordinated groups of landlords with a single room or property as ‘people power’: independent grassroots groups who share its policy preferences. This offers the company legitimacy and additional political influence to protect a business model that is increasingly dominated by professional accommodation providers.

Platform-sponsored grassroots lobbying is a public form of corporate lobbying, yet little is known about it. It is becoming widely used across the new digital ‘platform’ economy, from ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft, to delivery companies such as Doordash, to the rapidly scaling electric scooter industry. Grassroots lobbying is now a key tactic for disruptive new businesses facing regulation, but its current scale, how it works, and its social and political impacts, have received little attention.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherUniversity of Manchester
Number of pages54
Publication statusPublished - 22 Mar 2021

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  • Sustainable Consumption Institute


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