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).