The Zomato delivery workers' protest in West Bengal's Howrah has "nothing to do with food or religion or beliefs", the company's founder has said in an email to his staff, warning against "conflating meaningful work and livelihood opportunities with false outrage about religion and personal food choices."
Zomato founder Deepinder Goyal, in an email urging staff to "ignore the noise and not get distracted", writes: "This 'protest', confined to a handful of delivery partners, is limited to the Howrah area of Kolkata and not across West Bengal, as some wildly exaggerated reports make it out to be. The issue was primarily related to a recent rate card correction in that area, something which we routinely do."
A group of Zomato delivery workers in Howrah, which is just outside Kolkata, have been on strike for a week and have said they will not deliver food containing beef or pork. "The company is not listening to our demands and forcing us to deliver beef and pork against our will. Hindus have a problem delivering beef while Muslims do not want to deliver pork. We are forced to deliver such things," Mausin Akhtar, an employee, has been quoted as telling news agency ANI.
In his email, Mr Goyal explains that the resentment is linked to a system in which rate cards for delivery partners are revised when order density increases. "Our delivery partners keep earning the same amount of money after the rate card correction, and our unit economics become better, making the business more sustainable. This allows us to expand and continue to create more employment opportunities for more delivery partners," says the mail, asserting that the choice to continue with Zomato lies with the delivery partner.
"Occasionally, a handful of delivery riders don't understand the rate card corrections and start protesting against the change. In this case in Howrah, instead of constructive engagement with their local Zomato execs, these riders approached a local politician and deliberately framed the issue incorrectly," Mr Goyal writes.
"We know this because we took a look in our order database and there were zero orders from local homes for any item containing pork in the last three months in that entire area. There was one order of a food item containing beef but the customer cancelled that order before it was executed, let alone delivered."
The workers' protest drew much attention after the involvement of a local politician, Sanjeev Kumar Shukla, listed on Facebook as "in-charge BJP membership programme and secretary, BJP Uttar Howrah Mandal". The protest was reportedly triggered by the buzz that a beef biryani outlet was being added to Zomato's list of restaurants in Howrah.
Zomato is fresh out of another recent controversy over a customer refusing to accept his food order from a Muslim rider. The company earned praise for its response: "Food has no religion, food is religion".