The Thin Line Between Outsourcing and Exploitation

This post is in response to Yaro Starak's recent post: Is Outsourcing Exploitation? I started to comment, but the rambling was enough to warrant a post instead. Here are some of my thoughts as both a freelance service provider and someone who outsources work regularly.

I'm all for outsourcing, both in one's own country and elsewhere. I've worked with contractors in the US, UK, Canada, Philipines,and Peru. You can't do everything yourself, and by all means if you can save money and make money through outsourcing, that's a part of being in business.

However, what I find offensive is the attitude that by hiring someone for $2 an hour, a business owner is in some way being altruistic. I consider that to be utter bullshit, and that kind of justification often comes from people who are completely naive about what someone's real cost of living is. I know people in India who have a cost of living not that far off from my own for example (they also charge more than I do, and I'm not exactly a "cheap writer" myself). Yet other Web developers I know assume $20 a day or something along those lines is perfectly adequate for anyone in the country, and that they're being generous if anything by paying that much. In truth, they're just being cheap.

Can they find someone to work at those rates? Yes. Are they really doing much for that worker? No. It's the whole give a man a fish vs. teach him to fish issue. If you're not paying in a way that relates to the actual value you receive, then you're showing a huge amount of disrespect for the professionals you hire. Those desperate for work will probably still take it. They want to put food on the table. That doesn't mean what the client is doing is a good thing though. If they truly cared about doing something for that worker, they'd pay them a fairer wage (which might indeed be lower than what they'd pay a local).

Instead what often happens is that they pull in these workers and make them overly dependent on that little bit of income -- they're so busy working for that client to make ends meet that they don't have time to pursue something better for themselves. And holding someone back due to desperation up front is anything but altruistic.

This doesn't just happen with overseas outsourcing either. We see it in the writing industry all the time in the west as well -- content mills are a perfect example. It's just assumed that if you want to earn a livable wage, you'll work faster. And that's not a fair burden to place on a freelance professional in my opinion. The buyer gets more value for the same time spent; the writer gets to push themselves until they burn out. It's rarely a sustainable model for the service provider, and that's why those focusing on extremely cheap outsourcing treat them as replaceable -- because that's what they really become. And I find that disgusting.

There are ways to balance costs and profits. For example, many clients are selfish. They want everything -- full copyright -- without paying a rate that justifies that level of rights transfer. There's a fairer way to handle things. For example, when hiring a freelance blogger the client could still pay their lower rate but take fewer rights (the writer would be credited rather than ghostwritten, they could resell it to print outlets that don't compete, etc.). In fact, first rights are common in publishing even if Web publishers seem to have missed that memo.

There's a more-more-more attitude rather than one of compromise -- one that could be better for everyone involved. The worker is paid a fairer wage for what they're providing versus what they're keeping. And the hiring company doesn't risk the image damage involved when others do perceive their behavior as exploitation. Because let's be real here -- it doesn't much matter if you think you're exploiting someone. What matters is what your own customers think. Don't assume they'll never find out.

We do this at All Freelance Writing. I purchase limited rights to the material from our blog contributors -- 30 day exclusive Web rights and nonexclusive Web rights after that. I get what I want -- original content on the Web, and indexing of the content for this blog. The writers retain the right to sell print versions of their posts here, post them to their own blogs later, sell "reprints" to other sites in the future, or even use them in article marketing after those 30 days as a way to promote their own sites and services. I save money. The contributors get an immense amount of freedom. And they get to find ways to pull more value out of their work if they want to.

The same can be done in many types of outsourcing, especially on the Web. There's a balance. If a client wants a contractor to respect and work within their budget so they can save over hiring local workers, then as far as I'm concerned they should be equally flexible in their demands.

Those are just some of my thoughts. I could go on about the outsourcing issue forever though. So I'll shut up now. I want to hear your thoughts. Are you someone who outsources? Someone who takes on outsourced work? Both? Where do you think the line between outsourcing and exploitation is?

EDIT: I did end up leaving a shorter comment on Yaro's post, and I wanted to share that here as well in more direct response to something he said:

"Why is my time worth $500 for 30 minutes and someone in the Philippines worth $300 a MONTH?

You might claim that my time is more valuable because of my knowledge and position. It’s the same argument as to why a CEO of a company gets paid so much more than a mail boy in that same company."

But it would be a pretty poor argument. It would assume that your time's value is determined by skill whereas the value of someone else's time should be based on location. If you moved to the Philippines, would your time suddenly be worth $300 per month because of location, or would you still base it on the value you feel you provide to a client? If someone living there now had comparable skills and experience, should they feel forced to charge significantly less than you just because of location? If they wanted to move to Australia or the US or the UK, would their time magically be worth as much as yours to clients?

I think those are fair questions. The moment we place different criteria on our own value versus that of others is the moment I think we risk crossing that line from simply outsourcing to exploitation and professional disrespect.

Just my $.02 as a freelance service provider who values her time highly as well as someone who regularly outsources (both to those in western countries and elsewhere).

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Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, consultant, and indie author. She runs numerous websites & blogs including All Freelance Writing, Freelance Writing Pros, NakedPR, and Kiss My Biz.

Jenn has 25 years' experience as a professional writer and editor and over 20 years' experience in marketing and PR (working heavily in digital PR, online marketing, social media, SEO, new media, and thought leadership publication). She also has 19 years' professional blogging and web publishing experience (including web development) and around 18 years of experience as an indie author / publisher.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names and is an Active member of the Horror Writers Association.

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40 thoughts on “The Thin Line Between Outsourcing and Exploitation”

  1. I can’t believe that anyone could justify hiring a person for such a small amount of money as altruistic! I’m glad you spoke your mind.

    I’ve seen many U.S. writers complain about overseas writers taking all the available business because they work for less. Writers say they make us struggle. The truth is that these overseas writers are struggling, too, if they’re being paid next to nothing. I would rather get paid what I think I’m worth than struggle to put food on the table with a meager income.

    What drives me crazy are people that expect you to write high quality work for pennies because that’s what they belive all other writers do. Excuse me if I want to make a reasonable living!

    • I don’t know if Yaro Starek hires people at that rate (didn’t get the impression of that from the post), so I just don’t want it sound like I’m accusing him of that. But it was an example given in the post and one that he seemed to generally defend.

      I don’t believe those writers make us struggle. It’s just one of many excuses people spout when they aren’t where they want to be. The truth is that someone even considering $2 per hour or article or whatever isn’t in your target market if you charge significantly higher rates. They’ll likely never be in your market. You’re not losing business because someone works cheaper.

      As for the quality issue, I think that’s much easier to see in our industry because it revolves around communication. If a $2 per article writer can’t write in a way that suits a site’s target market (fluent casual and conversational English for example) then they’re offering less value. They’re not doing their job as well as a native English speaker might. Then again, you might have an outsourced writer in their country who CAN write that way well. In their case, they offer more value than their countryman. If they can write in a way that delivers the desired results, they should be compensated for it… and much better than someone who can’t deliver.

      It’s a little different with designers and programmers because there is no communication issue with the end market. But there are still communication issues. It might involve wasting more of your own time to get the desired results out of that person, whereas hiring someone more local to you could have saved you time. You’d pay a bit more, but when you’re charging $500 per 30 min consultation as Starek is, your time could be far more valuable than what you save by going with that overseas writer. Hell, I earn $150-400 per hour depending on the type of project I’m on, and even I wouldn’t chance it again with communication issues. No matter how you try to justify it, it doesn’t make sense financially, nonetheless ethically.

      • Couldn’t agree with you more! If you’re targeting people that are willing to spend just $2 for an article, then you are targeting the wrong market! I believe that if a person wants to make more, that person needs to provide a service to the people that are willing to pay for a valuable, necessary, high quality service.

        I have to tell you, I never thought about designers and programmers. I have yet to deal with them. But it makes sense that if they don’t speak/write comprehensible English, then if anything, the job will take longer and might not turn out they way you envision.

        Good points, Jennifer!

  2. I’ve seen this argument many times from ones who defend their right to outsource overseas. The same two things keep coming up. The ones saying that what seems small wages to us are generally comfortable to high living wages to those living in some of the other countries and the one about we’re doing that country some good.

    As for the statements about doing their country some good; I have yet to see a decent argument as to what exactly they’re doing that’s good for them. As for the statements of small wages being high living to them- well, I don’t get it, personally.

    In the U.S., the cost of living is different in different parts of the country. Most Freelancers I know charge what they’re worth as far as skill sets and qualifications etc. The internet broadens your opportunities to find work in more places than just local to you. If someone provided graphic design work and had 10 years experience with it, why should they charge smaller wages just because the cost of living is lower where they happen to live?

    I’m open-minded about it, but I haven’t seen any argument that convinces me yet.

    • I count myself lucky for having so many colleagues in these “3rd world countries.” So maybe I have a different perspective than some. I’ve talked to professionals in these places who laugh at the prospect of $5 articles and the like constituting good pay. So I find it both arrogant and ignorant when people assume they can pay peanuts and expect quality work in return, with the “it’s a good living over there” excuse. That would be like saying the federal minimum wage in the U.S. is an adequate living nationwide. Give me a break! You can’t generalize for a whole country like that and expect people to take your argument seriously.

      I commented again over on his post (they’re not approved yet). It was related to the whole hypocrisy of how he charges versus how he mentioned valuing others based on location. So I’ll share that here too:

      “Even though $300 USD a month may not seem like much to someone living in a developed country, in Thailand, or Romania, the Philippines, or India, it’s above the average monthly wage.”

      Here’s another question:

      Isn’t it at least a little bit hypocritical to justify something by saying it’s “above the average monthly wage,” when as a business owner you clearly wouldn’t be happy with the average monthly wage where you live? I doubt $500 per 30 minute consultation is anywhere near average. If it is, then make some room, ’cause I’m coming over! 😉

      I don’t know. Just playing devil’s advocate. But this goes back to my previous comment — I don’t see how someone can justify location-based pricing when they don’t practice what they preach in their own pricing. I mean, shouldn’t you also be happy just settling for “above the average monthly wage” for the better-than-average services I’m sure you provide? You can’t play both sides. Either pricing should be based on location, or it should be based on skills and the value provided.

  3. To me this is like saying that you need to see my bank statement and budget before agreeing to pay my wage. As though my work doesn’t have its own intrinsic worth so instead, I am worthy or being paid the minimum I need to survive.

  4. If I remember right, he made a comment somewhere on the post that if the worker gave quality work and made him a profit, then he tries to give back to that country. Wouldn’t you give back to the person who performed the work in the first place? I guess I don’t see how the country should benefit from him when they didn’t make him the profit to begin with. Or am I missing something?

    • Yeah, I had a similar thought. Exploit one person to give to others? What is he… Robin Hood? Seriously. If that’s what you want to do, then start a nonprofit and recruit volunteers.

      • Robin Hood… I like that. In this situation we’re not taking from the rich and giving to the poor; we’re taking from the hard workers and giving it to… well, ourselves, essentially. But, to appear like we have great business ethics and seem more like a humanitarian, we need to divert the attention from what we’re really doing by giving back- to their country under the guise of helping the poverty levels. The worker who helped us make some of our profits may not benefit from the offering to their country, but that’s okay, because we come out of it looking good.

        The point of giving is to do it because you want to help, so the money given to the countries should be separate from what you offer to your outsourced worker. If the worker provided you with decent quality work, then they should be the ones profiting from your good deeds. They can take some of the money you give them to put into their own country, if they choose to.

        • In fairness to Yaro, I think his reasoning was that by contributing to an organisation like Kiva, he would be helping to raise the status of the whole country. I don’t disagree … provided the people he outsources to ARE receiving a wage which truly enables them to live well within their society. $2/hr just doesn’t cut it.

          Sorry … this is a big, complicated issue and I’m trying to condense it within my time constraints and failing miserably.

          However, I COMPLETELY agree that it is utter BS to pretend that by paying a measly $2/hr is helping. That’s the sort of argument the factory owners pre-Industrial Revolution would have said.

          • And there’s nothing wrong with giving through Kiva. It’s admirable. It just doesn’t make up for treating anyone else poorly. And that said, Kiva involves loans paid back (unless they’re giving in some other way), so it’s a little different than simply being charitable. I’m not saying he personally pays anyone $2 / hr — that was just an example given in the post. Although a more specific example he gave was asking for full-time work at $300-500 per month which (assuming hours / week) is $1.88 – 3.13 per hour. Even if we assume a lower full-time schedule as some countries have (35 hours / week) that’s $2.14 – 3.57 per hour (pre-tax, expenses, any benefits for their family, etc.). I don’t know if anyone was actually hired at that rate however, and if so, what area in that range was paid.

            If someone really cares about helping entrepreneurs in these other countries, they should start with the entrepreneurs they hire. That’s what these contractors are — they’re essentially business owners, just like independent contractors in the west are. And the best thing you can do to help them stay in business and build their business is to pay them based on the value provided rather than just based on what you think they need in order to get by at home. One of the big problems I see is the attitude that these people aren’t self-employed business owners, but just “workers” there to handle whatever you don’t want to.

  5. You know… there’s something else neglected here. We talk a lot about the fact that freelance wages are far from equivalent to “equal” salaries in the U.S. But the same is true anywhere you go. No one can make a legitimate case for a few dollars per hour being “above average” somewhere unless they account for every single expense of the contractor.

    I know it doesn’t seem like much. And I know not everywhere has similar tax laws to the US where freelancers pay twice what employees do for certain taxes. But you can’t ignore things like the portion of their home lost to a home office, their equipment and Internet service to be online working for you in the first place, the fees associated with their own website if they have one for their business, health insurance, business registration expenses if any, marketing costs they incurred (like fees to these freelance bidding marketplaces), sick time, and anything else that’s reasonably included in an average “salary” or hourly wage as an employee there. Those things add up over time. And the less you pay someone, the bigger the bite those “little” fees take out of what they’re really earning and putting towards that oh-so-cheap lifestyle it’s assumed they live.

    And just because others in the country might not be able to afford to go out as much as they’d like, travel, spend more on entertainment, etc., why should it be the same for a virtual contractor working for you? I mean, the Internet is a beautiful thing. It gives people a chance to do better for themselves. And instead we have people who want to pay next to nothing to get a crapload in return (for a writer, perhaps all rights to your work). And they don’t make it possible for people to do better. They dig them into the same ruts content mills and similar “clients” dig western writers into when they’re new or naive or just hobbyists (where the buyers want to hold professionals to those hobbyist standards).

    I don’t know. I don’t read Yaro Starak’s blog often, but I’ve always respected him. But some of the things laid out in that post are really challenging that right now. Rather than saying “look how great I do for myself — you can do it too,” there were at least two comments (quoted in the post and another comment here) where it sounded a lot more like “look how much better I am than these people who deserve to earn far less than me because of where they live.” Not saying he flat out said that — just that that’s how certain parts of the post came across to me. To say I found some of those comments repulsive doesn’t even begin to cover it. It was an incredibly sad post to read.

    As for asking a bunch of people making a lot of money off the backs of these folks if it’s okay? Seriously… what kind of answer would you really expect?

    You know, I wish this blog earned me enough to pay each of our contributors $50, $100, $500 or more per post. I’d love to pay them what I make and more. But I have to stay within a budget that’s realistic based on the return. And somehow I’ve been able to do that without resorting to asking for free work or paying $5 an article or less (and oh, I could find plenty of people willing to do it). We don’t pay a lot. But we do pay better than many blogging gigs out there ($25 per post), and we do it without stringent rules, high word count requirements (I don’t even have requirements — writers pretty much do whatever they want here), and most importantly we do it without taking everything. We leave our writers to sell their print rights or re-use it on the Web after 30 days. Is it perfect? Not at all. But I at least did something many of these clients don’t — I asked the first group of writers what they felt the value they’d bring was worth. They essentially set the price that became the standard (and for the record, when I make special requests, want something longer, etc. I do pay significantly more, still not requiring full rights). But I’d sooner shut down the site than show people so little respect that I’d ask them to work for slave wages. And yes… when you take advantage of desperate people who basically feel forced to take anything that comes along, “slave wages” are exactly what you’re paying.

  6. To me, he started to come across as if he were saying that it’s okay to pay lower wages when you can’t afford to budget for the more expensive workers. That’s one thing, but what happens when their business starts making like $100,000 or so a year? They should be able to afford the higher paid freelancers then or afford to pay the overseas worker more, but somehow I doubt there are too many that give up the money they’re saving. It just seemed hypocritical, in a way.

    • I agree. And we’re not even just talking about people making $100k per year. One example I believe he gave was earning $90k per month. There is absolutely nothing wrong with earning a profit. But when others form the backbone of your business or serve strong supporting roles in helping you do that, then call me crazy, but I believe they should share in that success. And earning a bit more than what the average employee wage is (again, very different from freelance “wages”), is not really sharing in that success. Then again, I like to remember that karma has a funny little way of being a complete bitch. That’s why I don’t get so riled up about “businesses” like MFA sites paying little to nothing. I know eventually the big hand of Google will swing down and give them something to think about.

  7. Hi Jen,
    These are good points. I live in the Philippines and agree with the example that you gave. Perhaps the reason why my fellow Filipinos are charging less than what they should suppose to receive is because they don’t know the real rate for those professionals who are doing the same service. Or probably some of them are just beginners who want to hone and practice their skills. Unfortunately, some companies which are outsourcing their work are abusing those people who are providing excellent services for them. I remember a friend of mine who graduated in one of the prestigious universityies here is just charging $1.25 an hour. I asked her why she was allowing it to happen and she said that it’s better than nothing.

    I also tried to work for the same person that she is working on and it’s terrible. He wants so many thing to be done. Now, I am still improving my skills so that it will be reasonable if I’ll charge them the exact amount that I suppose to receive.

    • I think you hit the nail on the head Angel. People often don’t know any better when they start out. They look to what’s being advertised (often very low rates) and they assume it’s the norm. They don’t necessarily realize that most of the better gigs in this game are never publicly advertised, so they start with a skewed perception of what “average” is and these buyers take advantage of that fact. What’s worse is when I see buyers actively telling these freelancers that their bottom of the barrel offerings are the norm, because they too are completely ignorant of the fact that there are many more markets than the narrow one they represent (or they intentionally ignore it in order to suck in contractors).

      This kind of shit seriously infuriates me.

    • Tell you what Angel…. if you’re really settling for $1.25 per hour as a freelance writer, email me at If you’re interested in doing a monthly post here on the blog and you have Paypal since that’s how we pay, I’d be happy to have you. Just email me a writing sample or two.

      I’d love to have you write once per month to share stories about what it’s like trying to earn a better living when you’re up against challenges like these notions that location justifies low pay on its own. It’s $25 per blog post for 30 day exclusive Web rights and non-exclusive Web rights after that. If you’re interested, get in touch and we’ll talk.

  8. You make some very good points. I agree with the questions you raise in your comment on that particular post.

    It’s like saying that the Gap is being altruistic for having sweatshops in Honduras. $300/month is NOT a living wage, not even in many developing countries. And I highly doubt that it’s above the average monthly wage in the countries he mentioned.

    I lived in Ecuador for two years (a very poor country) and college graduates typically made at least $600 to start. But to buy a house, a car, and live the life that Americans consider normal, an Ecuadorian would have to make a lot more than that. In Ecuador a salary of at least $1000 was considered decent for a single person.

    Sure, you could live off of $300 in a poor country, but you’d be scraping by. You wouldn’t have a car, nice clothes, or gadgets, and you’d live in a cheap apartment in a shady neighborhood. And you’d probably eat rice and beans most of the time. I think if any of those dudes making $90,000/month visited their workers’ homes and learned more about their lives in the PI, they would feel bad about how little they are paying them. Or maybe they wouldn’t care.

    • Your story is very similar to those I’ve heard from others. The ridiculously low wages we hear quoted as the “norm” are often skewed. That might be the average someone needs to continue slumming it somewhere. But that’s not the point. You can’t compare costs of living unless you’re comparing similar living conditions.

      Once you do that and you account for the kinds of things you mentioned, that number can go up significantly. And there’s the ethical dilemma for me. Would it be alright for me to hire a full-time contractor, expecting hard work all week long, knowing full well that the “norm” I’m paying them wouldn’t cover basics? I couldn’t do that. It makes incredibly sad to know there are so many people who can.

      And I’m so tired of seeing people use the “it’s no different than what corporations do” argument. Do you really want to be like companies like Wal-mart in that department? Is it silly to think you can run a profitable business without being like that? I don’t know. Maybe I’m just an exception.

  9. Hi, As someone who does outsourced work and lives in India, I have experienced clients wanting to pay me way less than what I charge simply because they assume that I would 1) take it and 2) not need the rate am charging ‘cos am in India. In both cases, I have had to “disappoint” them.,
    When I started writing online, I had no idea of what to charge and when I heard talk on several forums of charging as less as a dollar for a 500-word article I wasn’t sure of continuing.
    So, yeah, abysmal rates are a reality of the outsourcing world. But it is upto us to deal with it and tackle it right.
    Thanks for the post, Jenn!

    • You’re not unlike many of my colleagues in that area of the world. I’m happy to see another one who doesn’t believe location = a justification for taking advantage of someone.

      Sadly, I’ve been reading the newly approved comments over on Starek’s blog, and there’s so much of a “they should be grateful for whatever they get” mentality that it’s making me sick. Newsflash: the fact that someone agrees to your offered rate doesn’t mean it’s not exploitation. If that were true we’d bring back child labor. After all, with so many US families hurting these days, every little bit helps, right? Come on.

  10. I love you Jenn for considering the plight of those who are getting $2/hour freelance work. I am a freelance writer and some employers would even ask you if you could make a $2 500-word article for them. The least I charge is $10 article because of the quality.
    Well, quality is subjective depending on the employer but just the same, you would know if an article was extensively researched on. There are those who ask you for sample articles and at the end will tell you that you are not qualified and later on you’d find those same articles published. What can I say? 🙁

    I just wish your tribe will increase. Sadly, there are many greedy internet marketers who boasts that they could enjoy travelling around the world while their work is being done by their remote workers at $2 per hour! Shame on them!

    It’s about time that freelancers from third world country speak up and stop accepting low pay, not just for financial purposes but for self-worth as well.

    Thanks a lot Jenn- and I hope you have email subscription for your blog. 🙂

  11. Hi Jennifer,

    Thanks for taking this discussion over here to your website and to your readers. I think discussion of this issue is great, and I’m amazed at some of the comments that have come as a result of my article, though perhaps not surprised, it is a contentious issue that everyone has an opinion on and I used some strong language in the article.

    By the way – I’ve approved your comments on my blog.

    I want to state that I wrote the article in an attempt to put out all the thoughts and ideas I’ve had about this subject. Presently I don’t have any outsourcers overseas working for me and I’ve largely built my business off the back of my own writing and a handful of coders/designers, who have been from Australia and the USA.

    My business model has carried me far and I earn a great living largely off the back of consistent blogging. Now though I want to start new projects and get things done on a bigger scale, so I need more help, hence I’m going down the outsourcing rout.

    I don’t make $90,000 a month, but I do pretty well – around $20K a month fairly consistently for the last few years. Adam Short was who I was quoting makes $90K a month, and although I know he does outsourcing, I don’t know his structure, who or where he employs people from, how much he pays or how he gives back via charity etc, so let’s not judge anyone too quickly – only Adam knows what he does.

    This is the same for all the people I mentioned in the article – John Reese and John Jonas – both of whom I believe have talked about $2 per hour labor before included. I don’t know what these guys do to give back, and they have relationships with lots of employees that we don’t know the particulars of, so you have to be careful before accusing anyone of anything.

    If you read my article from start to finish and all the comments now following it, you will get a unbelievably varied viewpoint on this issue. If you are to take the comments as true, we’ve got some people claiming $300 USD a month is great money, while others saying it’s not, and that includes people who are actually in the countries and working as outsourcers.

    Options for working towards change in this issue, including paying your employees higher wages and/or taking some of the profits and investing them back into the countries you outsource too are discussed. There is even mixed opinions regarding these solutions as well, given broader implications like artificially raising prices, hurting those who are not employed, to people saying we are judging others standards by our own assuming we know what is best for people when we don’t have sufficient information.

    I’ve got my stance, which was quite comprehensively covered in the article and in comments I left after the article, but as I stated, this is a gray area that at the end of the day you have to choose to do what you think is right, and not everyone is going to agree with you.

    Once again, thanks for your contribution to the discussion and I encourage everyone to read my post and in particular the comments that follow it. The more you read, the more complicated the issue gets, but at least we are getting lots of opinions from all kinds of people affected by outsourcing.


    • Yaro, first let me say I appreciate you stopping by.

      I wasn’t trying to say that you personally make $90k per month, so I apologize if it sounded that way.

      But here’s the issue. It doesn’t matter in the slightest if you or the others “give back.” It’s wonderful that you do. But it’s 100% irrelevant to the issue of paying obscenely low rates to independent contractors. It might be one thing if they admitted they were taking advantage of people or valuing them inappropriately (like your post’s comments noting their value is based on location rather than what they provide). It would definitely be different if they were “giving back” to make up for that. But you can’t claim to care about doing what’s right for people while continuing to act in an abusive and disrespectful way towards independent workers in these countries.

      And really… I didn’t see an awful lot of people coming out in support of these contractors in your comments. Some, yes. But the vast majority were making completely ignorant claims about what’s normal or average or what other people deserve based on where they live. For example, until I mentioned it I didn’t see a single comment point out the major flaw in comparing average employee wages to independent contractor pay (where the take-home is drastically different, and even moreso the lower those payments go). Someone did mention that many of your readers seemed to talk about these people as though they were pets rather than people. And do you know what? That’s exactly how a lot of it comes across.

      Take a look at the comments here in comparison… not from the western crowd (who still know better than to assume they fully understand living conditions and wages in these other parts of the world). But instead look at the people actually living and working there. The low rates you mentioned are not tolerable rates. Paying enough to keep people in average poor living conditions isn’t so much the issue as the justification that it’s okay or even worse that it’s somehow generous. It doesn’t matter if someone’s just happy to get a job. There are people right here in the US who freelance for less than minimum wage just because times are tough. And there’s a BIG difference between being happy in a situation and just being grateful for the few dollars you can muster because it’s better than nothing.

      And for anyone to pitch these low rates to workers knowing up front that there are tough job markets and that they’re desperate is indeed bordering on bringing in slave labor. It’s not a true “choice” when it’s all that’s offered and it’s all that’s available. And those who choose to take advantage of those circumstances are disgusting at best.

      There is absolutely nothing wrong with outsourcing to save money if you can get the same quality work. I do it myself. It’s just smart business. But to assume that someone’s location means they offer less value and shouldn’t be compensated fairly is crossing a line. And I don’t know about you, but for those saying it’s okay because corporations do it, it’s time to look in a mirror and figure out if that’s really the kind of business you want to be. You can do extremely well without taking advantage of people. And anyone who respects themselves and their brand wouldn’t even think about doing that.

  12. Hello Jennifer! I got to this post when an office colleague (and a fellow freelance writer) posted it over Facebook. This exploitation is nothing new here in Philippines and a lot of writers who are just starting are accepting job to add in to their work experience and just for extra income, which is just sad. 🙁

    I had my share of employers who offered $2.00 for a 400-word article. Others, for measly $1.00 per article. The situation is getting worse each year as I checked on online freelance writing sites offering less nowadays.

    I have a friend who was offered by that rate too and her employer told her that rate was just what she deserves because she does not have “enough experience” in freelance writing. I’m glad she refused.

    I still struggle to work as a freelance writer but there had been no luck in finding a better paying writing work that would offer a higher pay and WOULD ACTUALLY PAY. There are still those who offer high salary but would just scrape off your writing and never get back to you for payment.

    Happy to know someone there in US would actually think how were doing here in the 3rd world country. 😀

    • Jasmin,
      We definitely care about you. I can tell by the fact you can write legible paragraphs that you deserve much more that hundredths of a cent per word.

      I would strongly urge you to look less for posted gigs (I find myself pretty much ignoring them nowadays) and to pitch prospective clients directly while developing your platform.

      I’m in the process of getting my platform going and pitching prospective clients, too, so if you’d like a writing biz buddy to help you with your goals, please email me at and we can talk about where you’d like to be with your writing business.

    • Sadly the situation is getting worse in a lot of places. But fortunately no one has to allow themselves to be disrespected in that way, and those low paying markets generally don’t affect the higher end of the spectrum (where clients understand that value and price are very different things).

      That’s why we work so hard here at All Freelance Writing to wake people up to the fact that they can do better for themselves. Many just don’t know that better opportunities exist.

      As for what your friend was told they “deserved,” I would have very bluntly told the non-client that they don’t have enough experience working with professional contractors to deserve my time and expertise. Then I’d probably tell them where they could stick their $2. But that’s just me. 😉

  13. I tried to comment on this earlier and my interwebs went all wacky (my fault).

    I simply cannot fathom why absolutely ANYONE could justify paying someone significantly less than they are worth because they live somewhere else. I’m about as patriotic as can be, but I don’t ever want my name (or my nation’s) associated with such ugliness! I wish that the international freelancers that feel that extremely low wages are acceptable for them would all come and read AFW to see that a professional deserves to be paid like a professional.

  14. Hey Jen,

    I understand where you are coming from and I appreciate your passion for equality.

    I honestly don’t like that countries are not equal, and as I wrote, on a macro level I don’t think it is fair, which is why I wrote the article in the first place.

    One area where I believe we have to be careful, is our judgment of what is “fair”. We just can’t assume anything when it comes to this. The best we can do is to take things on a case by case basis and draw our own conclusions for each situation we personally encounter. We must never generalize – if we generalize we are wrong.

    What we can do on a micro level is communicate openly and honestly with the people we work with and hope that they are honest with us in regards to how much money they really need for remuneration so we can pay them a fair wage with full knowledge of what that is. If that fits within our business model and we like their work, then everyone wins in that transaction. From there, we can increase pay for good work and support our staff as much as we can. If we are doing well with our business, we can choose to reinvest profits back into supporting poorer countries if we believe that is important to us.

    A person left a comment that really made me look at this in an interesting angle. They said what if there was another country where the average wage is $30,000 a MONTH and they came into Australia and paid $6,000 a month to employ people. Most Australians would be very happy with that. However compared to $30,000 a month as the average, $6,000 is not much money – not enough to survive on in the country that pays salaries of $30,000 a month. The standards of living in the $30K a month country are also much higher than Australia. So in this situation, is the Australian upset about his $6,000 a month, knowing that the person in the other country makes so much more off of his back? Probably not.

    It’s not a completely direct comparison to what we are talking about here, but it definitely made me look at it in a different angle.

    Again, I appreciate your point of view and passion against what you see is one group taking advantage of another. That is why I wrote my article. I like to think that as a result of the article many people are thinking hard about how they pay and support the people they employ overseas differently to before reading the article, which is a good thing.

    After five years of blogging I’ve learned that every interpretation is different and that can be very frustrating because not everyone will agree with you – and worse – they will read your words and derive a completely different meaning than what you intended. I’ve had to be very careful not to attach myself to an opinion because frankly, that’s all it is, an opinion. I will never have complete enough information to truly know what I am talking about when it comes to global issues.


  15. “One area where I believe we have to be careful, is our judgment of what is “fair”. We just can’t assume anything when it comes to this. ”

    I think we can assume plenty. For example, I can assume that when we’re talking about paying just enough for people to “survive” as you put it, that’s a far cry from “fair.” I could pay someone enough to cram their 4-person family into a cheap-ass studio apartment and keep them in rice and ramen noodles all month long. They’d “survive.” But it’s not a fair rate if that worker is providing significant value to my business. I don’t think fairness is hard to determine at all for anyone truly interested in being fair. If you want someone full-time, then you pay them enough to maintain their lifestyle. Or, if their current lifestyle is far below what you’d consider a minimum standard for yourself, then you should pay what you’d expect to earn (were you living there and providing the same service). When you put yourself in someone else’s shoes, fairness is a pretty simple concept.

    “We must never generalize – if we generalize we are wrong.”

    And that was my primary problem with your post. There was a LOT of generalization, and that in turn influences how your readers perceive an issue and make their own decisions. Like it or not, you’re one of those (and I hate this term) “influencers.” That means there’s added responsibility behind everything said. You generalized in the post about locations determining what someone should earn. So your readers jumped on that viewpoint in droves with little to no real critical thinking or analysis in most of those comments. Had there been, we would have seen more people point out the hypocrisy in your value determination vs theirs, or asking for proof of those numbers, or asking writers in the Philippines what they really need to earn rather than just trusting the numbers from someone who doesn’t live there. I know enough people living there that I immediately knew that didn’t sound right. Many don’t. And that makes the generalizations in the post a dangerous thing.

    “If that fits within our business model and we like their work, then everyone wins in that transaction.”

    In theory, that sounds fantastic. But it’s detached from the reality of a lot of situations. Freelancers who take very low pay (even in the West) are often terrified to ask for more. Why? Because they know someone’s always out there willing to work for less — hobbyists, newbies who haven’t learned much about market rates yet, etc. These are the pathetic rates they see advertised, because many (most in the specific case of freelance writing) of the higher paying jobs are never advertised.

    This also affects folks on the buyer side. They don’t understand that most people buy through referrals when they have money to spend, or they go to people they’ve worked with in the past, or they search for providers on their own. They don’t advertise on bidding sites or forums or the like. So they see those ads at bottom of the barrel marketplaces and assume it’s the norm, so it’s what they should pay. They assume that’s the going rate for the type of work they’re looking for, and that’s rarely true. So even the good-intentioned end up taking advantage of people who are desperate for any work that comes along. They honestly don’t know any better, because they don’t research the full market. They research a bulk of what makes up the lowest end of the spectrum.

    “The standards of living in the $30K a month country are also much higher than Australia. So in this situation, is the Australian upset about his $6,000 a month, knowing that the person in the other country makes so much more off of his back? Probably not.”

    That example misses the point entirely. Although again, it makes mine for me. 😉

    The example assumes an equal lifestyle but different cost of living. And that’s a common assumption. But it’s incorrect. We’re not talking about paying for someone to live a comfortable middle class lifestyle that we often expect in the west. If someone is being paid enough to live that basic lifestyle in their country, I have no problem with it.

    What I do have a problem with is any buyer who goes to these countries to hire workers and save money, but they try to cut corners so much that they pay these workers not just less but so little that they still live in poverty or struggle to get by each month. There is no justification for that.

  16. Hey Again Jenn,

    To help me avoid more misleading generalization, could you explain how I would have better written the article from your point of view?

    This might help me clarify where you are coming from and how I may have made a better impact based on your standpoint.


    • Sure. Here are a few things that come to mind:

      1. Don’t lump people in a country in one group and make statements about how what you pay them is about where they live. I went into more detail about that in my comments on your blog previously, pointing out that the post had a simplistic double standard (your rates should be based on value, but the rates of those Filipino workers should be based on their location) — and you did address that more in your comments, although it isn’t necessarily enough to reach those who just read the initial post.

      2. Don’t state what average or normal rates are without citing reputable sources.

      3. Don’t discuss average earnings in a general sense. It’s easy for readers to assume an average there would equate to the same “average” lifestyle they’re familiar with in the west. Instead make sure you also cover what kind of lifestyle that supposedly average pay provides. There’s a big difference between the average pay that would support a comfortable middle-class lifestyle and one where an average living still equates to scraping by. And that’s something that could have been kept in better perspective I think before letting vague stats and claims influence what other entrepreneurs think and choose to do re: outsourcing.

  17. Okay, thanks Jen.

    I can certainly see where having some data from the people in question is helpful, or if that’s not available, or not complete, at least state that what I am stating is not going to be true in all situations, reality will no doubt be different from a generalization and a true average is difficult to come by.

    From my point of view I thought when I was generalizing I was also making it clear that we don’t know the real case, which is why it is a generalization and why I provided counter arguments to the accepted belief. Based on your reaction you interpreted quite the opposite way, or at least that my statements oversimplified the situation, and are concerned others did too – which no doubt many did – so I could have done a better job of it.

  18. Here’s another article spun off on a different blog as a result of the discussion started on mine that I thought might be worth linking to.

    This offers another perspective on what is the average wage in the Philippines, taken from someone living there and employing Filipinos –

  19. I have read that post Yaro. It’s totally misleading! In fact, I posted a comment asking him for clarifications.

    He is living in the Philippines but I don’t think he had the chance of working with online freelancers. Plus the rate he was saying in his post are, I think the rates for workers who did not even graduate in college and can speak and write good English.

    If at all, I think he is referring to his domestic helper! That’s why I questioned him whether the workers he is referring to and gets paid P200/day are eligible to work online as graphic designers, web designers or even writers.

  20. @Jasmin – I definitely agree with you. I, too, have had my share of non-paying gigs. I had to report one to Rip-Off. Luckily he paid after I reported him. 🙂

    @Jenn – is there an international organization of freelancers that protects the rights of people like us?

  21. Valid points you’ve got here. I think that many will argue about the cost of living in developing nations vs the cost of hiring someone in the US. Still, the question of fair pay is a moral issue, and one that carries with it a social responsibility in the part of the service buyers. Are these rates ( like $1 or $2 per hour ) helping these skilled workers live a better life than the ones they have right now? Outsourcing should not only focus on the cheapest labor around but also on getting value through training and innovation. You’ll save money and time if you pay a li’l bit more.


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