Slaver, That’s Me…Outsourcing in the Philippines
Last November I published “Patriotism and Offshoring” which described my journey reconciling three elements of my life while outsourcing here in the Philippines. There was internal conflict between my chosen field of work, being Australian, and being a global citizen. I did expect some criticism when I published, but that didn’t make being called a slaver any less unpleasant.
Board members, senior executives, shareholders and small-business owners alike choose to move work offshore, but we are all sickened by the concepts of exploitation. We want no part of child labour, sweat shops, inhumane working conditions or sub-minimum wage workers. When we look to implement strategic resourcing models that incorporate workers in developing countries there is no sinister desire to oppress the poor. These decisions are driven by a need to reduce costs or tap into a wider pool of talent, or extend services beyond local business hours of operation.
Almost all Western-owned companies in the Philippines have robust corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs. This is not to assuage the guilt for our “exploitative” practices but because there is a genuine desire to give back to the community. I couldn’t live and work in the Philippines without contributing – the gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots” is disturbingly wide. So the guilt is there – that which we all feel for being born in a first-world country with food in our bellies and shoes on our feet when others have neither. Not because I’m a slaver.
CSR programs are not the industry’s only contributions to developing nations. There is a considerable flow-on effect from the thousands of workers employed by outsourcers. Western owned businesses typically provide working conditions and salaries above the market average, consequently the families of outsourced workers benefit. Employees may have improved health care coverage, meals provided in the office and themselves have the opportunity to participate in CSR programs. Their families have access to better education and more time together as offshoring companies often allow vacation and public holiday benefits above those stipulated by local labour codes. In fact, these benefits are necessary to attract and retain the very best talent.
The effect of foreign investment in the Indian IT industry initiated profound and enduring change for employees and their extended families. I witnessed this first-hand, when building an IT Engineering function for Macquarie Bank. And while India is renowned for the disparity in treatment between the genders, offshoring has had an impact on this too. The IT boom brought about by foreign investment increased both employment and education opportunities for women, well beyond expectations. This flow-on effect ripples out beyond the IT and outsourcing sectors into all the businesses and industries necessary to support the growth.
As we benefit from the lower salaries of workers in developing countries, those same salaries are high relative to the local economy. The comments about Yempo’s exploitation were met by my staff with great hilarity, which is how they would land on most workers in the industry. One said, “I never thought a slaver would sit next to the slaves, working in the same conditions and give us share of the company profits,” The workplace Yempo provides to its staff can be seen in our recruitment video:
Western workers in industries that are actively outsourcing to developing nations will have their slavery misconceptions corrected sooner or later. The IT outsourcing industry in the Philippines alone is booming and an increasing number of companies will embark on the offshoring journey. In so doing, more and more staff in developed countries will be able to see first-hand the benefits that the industry provides to the citizens of nations with long histories of poverty.
About the Author: Michelle Fiegehen is the CEO of Yempo, a boutique offshoring company in the Philippines. She has lived and worked in the Philippines and India since 2009, building offshore capability for Australia, United States, Canada, United Kingdom and Hong Kong.