Humans in Digital Logistics
- Start date: 1 November 2022
- End date: 31 October 2025
- Principal investigator: Dr Charles Umney
- Co-investigators: Dr Gabriella Alberti, Dr Gary Graham
The Humans in Digital Logistics (HuLog) project investigates how digital technologies shape work and employment conditions in warehouses in Europe. Today, warehouses are profoundly affected by rapidly evolving digital technologies along the whole supply chain, which facilitate online purchases of goods, harmonize systems for tracking parcels, and optimize warehouse operations to reduce the time for handling goods.
Warehousing is expected to keep growing and to generate new jobs, as companies increase local inventories to mitigate the risk of global supply chain disruptions caused by international trade conflicts (e.g. Brexit), armed conflicts and calamities such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
To date, the impact of digital technologies on work and employment in warehouses remains poorly understood. Most studies of warehousing focus on IT-induced efficiency gains reducing the time and cost of processing goods, yet neglect the experience of workers. HuLog takes a more human-centred look at the digitally-driven transformation of warehousing and logistics work.
HuLog will produce multidisciplinary, cutting-edge scientific knowledge on work and employment in European logistics. It will advance the scientific literature in and across relevant disciplines and inform the public debate on the future of work in a context of rapid technological transformation. Combining a socio-material with an employment relations perspective, HuLog examines how digital technologies are deployed in the organization of warehouse operations, including how they:
1) shape warehouse workers’ experience of work
2) drive warehousing companies’ employment strategies to maximize workforce flexibility, and how this affects working conditions.
Empirically, HuLog investigates 12 digital warehouses in four logistic hubs in Europe: Western Poland, Berlin-Leipzig-Halle (Germany), Limburg (Belgium) and West Yorkshire (United Kingdom). This research design allows for comparison across institutional, economic and socio-demographic contexts.
HuLog involves an extensive network of 17 national and international collaboration partners including employers, employers’ associations, trade unions, public employment services, social-profit companies, and sectoral associations. In collaboration with them, the project will identify guiding principles for negotiating more human-centred and socially sustainable digital warehousing.
Project HuLog is supported by FWO Belgium, NSO Poland, UKRI United Kingdom, and the Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung Germany under CHANSE ERA-NET Co-fund programme, which has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme, under Grant Agreement no 101004509.