Con fecha 26 de junio de 2020, en el caso Uber Technologies Inc. v. Heller, 2020 SCC 16 (Uber v. Heller), la Corte Suprema de Canadá emitió una sentencia que consideramos útil para analizar las cláusulas arbitrales en los contratos por adhesión.
El señor David Heller, un socio repartidor de Uber Eats en Ontario, Canadá, promovió una acción colectiva (class action) contra Uber alegando violación de las leyes laborales.
Para poder registrarse como socio repartidor, el señor Heller tuvo que aceptar obligatoriamente los términos de servicio impuestos por Uber Eats, que incluyen una cláusula de mediación y arbitraje de acuerdo con lo dispuesto por el Reglamento de la ICC, con sede en los Países Bajos y sujeto a las leyes de dicho país.
El proceso de mediación y arbitraje previsto en el contrato requiere una gestión administrativa previa, así como el pago de honorarios de presentación de US $ 14.500, más honorarios legales y otros costos de participación, que representan la mayor parte de los ingresos anuales del señor Heller.
En su defensa, Uber invocó la cláusula de mediación y arbitraje y solicitó detener el proceso judicial y remitir el caso a arbitraje. La Corte Superior de Ontario falló a favor de Uber y ordenó remitir el proceso a la ICC.
Sin embargo, la Corte de Apelaciones de Ontario revocó la decisión de la Corte Superior, por considerar que la cláusula de mediación y arbitraje era abusiva (unconscionable) y, en consecuencia, inválida.
Ante ello, Uber apeló ante la Corte Suprema de Canadá, órgano que confirmó la decisión de la Corte de Apelaciones. A continuación se transcriben los argumentos centrales la sentencia:
“ There was clearly inequality of bargaining power between Uber and Mr. Heller. The arbitration agreement was part of a standard form contract. Mr. Heller was powerless to negotiate any of its terms. His only contractual option was to accept or reject it. There was a significant gulf in sophistication between Mr. Heller, a food deliveryman in Toronto, and Uber, a large multinational corporation. The arbitration agreement, moreover, contains no information about the costs of mediation and arbitration in the Netherlands. A person in Mr. Heller’s position could not be expected to appreciate the financial and legal implications of agreeing to arbitrate under ICC Rules or under Dutch law. Even assuming that Mr. Heller was the rare fellow who would have read through the contract in its entirety before signing it, he would have had no reason to suspect that behind an innocuous reference to mandatory mediation “under the International Chamber of Commerce Mediation Rules” that could be followed by “arbitration under the Rules of Arbitration of the International Chamber of Commerce”, there lay a US$14,500 hurdle to relief. Exacerbating this situation is that these Rules were not attached to the contract, and so Mr. Heller would have had to search them out himself.
 The improvidence of the arbitration clause is also clear. The mediation and arbitration processes require US$14,500 in up-front administrative fees. This amount is close to Mr. Heller’s annual income and does not include the potential costs of travel, accommodation, legal representation or lost wages. The costs are disproportionate to the size of an arbitration award that could reasonably have been foreseen when the contract was entered into. The arbitration agreement also designates the law of the Netherlands as the governing law and Amsterdam as the “place” of the arbitration. This gives Mr. Heller and other Uber drivers in Ontario the clear impression that they have little choice but to travel at their own expense to the Netherlands to individually pursue claims against Uber through mandatory mediation and arbitration in Uber’s home jurisdiction. Any representations to the arbitrator, including about the location of the hearing, can only be made after the fees have been paid.
 The arbitration clause, in effect, modifies every other substantive right in the contract such that all rights that Mr. Heller enjoys are subject to the apparent precondition that he travel to Amsterdam,7 initiate an arbitration by paying the required fees and receive an arbitral award that establishes a violation of this right. It is only once these preconditions are met that Mr. Heller can get a court order to enforce his substantive rights under the contract. Effectively, the arbitration clause makes the substantive rights given by the contract unenforceable by a driver against Uber. No reasonable person who had understood and appreciated the implications of the arbitration clause would have agreed to it.
 We add that the unconscionability of the arbitration clause can be considered separately from that of the contract as a whole. As explained in Bremer Vulkan Schiffbau und Maschinenfabrik v. South India Shipping Corporation Ltd.,  A.C. 909 (H.L.), an arbitration agreement “constitutes a self-contained contract collateral or ancillary to the [main] agreement” (p. 980; see also p. 998, per Lord Scarman). Further support comes from the severability clause of the Uber Rasier and Uber Portier agreements, and s. 17(2) of the AA.8
 Respect for arbitration is based on it being a cost-effective and efficient method of resolving disputes. When arbitration is realistically unattainable, it amounts to no dispute resolution mechanism at all. As our colleague Justice Brown notes, under the arbitration clause, “Mr. Heller, and only Mr. Heller, would experience undue hardship in attempting to advance a claim against Uber, regardless of the claim’s legal merit” (para. 136). The arbitration clause is the only way Mr. Heller can vindicate his rights under the contract, but arbitration is out of reach for him and other drivers in his position. His contractual rights are, as a result, illusory.
 Based on both the disadvantages faced by Mr. Heller in his ability to protect his bargaining interests and on the unfair terms that resulted, the arbitration clause is unconscionable and therefore invalid”.
Como uno de los elementos de juicio con que contó para emitir la Sentencia bajo comentario, la Corte Suprema de Canadá tuvo a la vista el Amicus Curiae de la ICC, en el que expuso sustancialmente lo siguiente:
“7. The ICC takes no position on the disposition of this appeal. Its submissions are informed by the ICC Court’s experience and expertise in international arbitration and are directed to the following issues:
- a) Whether the competence-competence principle applies where a challenge to the jurisdiction of the arbitrator is based on the alleged invalidity of the arbitration agreement. In accordance with this Court’s judgments in Dell and Seidel, as well as the strong emerging international consensus, the ICC submits that, in commercial cases, allegations of invalidity ought to be addressed in the same manner as other jurisdictional challenges pursuant to the competence-competence principle; and
- b) The proper approach for determining the suitability of arbitration, including ICC arbitration, for resolving certain categories of disputes. The ICC submits that suitability cannot be determined in the abstract. Such determination ought to be made having regard to clearly-expressed legislative policy choices, applying the competence-competence principle and the allocation of judicial and arbitral responsibilities reflected in the Model Law”.
En este caso la Corte Suprema canadiense se apartó del principio “competence-competence”, en general respetado por las cortes de dicho país, para basar su decisión en hechos que consideró injustos, tales como que se trataba de un contrato por adhesión que incluía una cláusula de arbitraje bajo las reglas de la ICC, en una jurisdicción y bajo leyes distintas a las de la parte “débil” en la relación contractual, con tarifas que la Corte consideró altas en relación con los ingresos del señor Heller.
 Partes: Sr. David Heller (Demandante) / Uber Technologies Inc., Uber Canada, Inc., Uber B.V. y Rasier Operations B.V. (Demandados).
 Puede revisarse la Sentencia completa en el siguiente enlace: https://decisions.scc-csc.ca/scc-csc/scc-csc/en/item/18406/index.do