A fair translation agency

When I founded Fairtrad at the beginning of 2010, my aim was to apply to the translation industry the ethical and social principles which would enable every linguist to earn a decent living, without ever speculating on their work, offering high-quality services whereby all parties – from the customer to the service provider – were respected and satisfied. I could already see the posters up, bearing the image of a beaming, fulfilled linguist: “Thanks to Fairtrad, this translator was able to take her family away on holiday”.

However, when I began to take a closer look at the concept of fair and socially-responsible trade, I found that there were some limitations:

a)      Fair trade, by definition, only covers the sale of goods, not services;

b)      Socially-responsible companies are required to have employees, for it is on the basis of their social support and integration policies that they are declared ‘socially-responsible’ (as per Article L 443-3-1 of the French Labour Code).

Consequently, a translation agency that works with a network of independent service providers cannot claim the official labels of either “fair” or “socially-responsible”.

There remains nevertheless the concept of ethical trade which endeavours to bring social and environmental improvements to the existing international trade arena. However, it is mainly in reference to the social responsibility of large companies (through the application of a code of conduct) that this term is used.

I can therefore but take inspiration from these definitions and apply their basic principles at every possible opportunity; however I cannot claim any official recognition for my commitment. I am just a small player in the free market, working with other independent market players, which does pose a major problem in terms of communication. While Fairtrad’s service providers are able to evaluate the agency’s ethical conduct, the customer has no guarantee.

The translation market also harbours many divides between service providers, companies, training bodies, professional associations and multinational groups.  These different stakeholders often have contrasting interests and very different – sometimes opposing – visions of the market. None of which helps when you want to apply a definition of “ethical translation”.

So, here is what Fairtrad has put into place to date:

Principles of ethical trade:

Promoting a form of exchange designed to achieve equity, especially in terms of pricing (see an interesting article by Maurice Décaillot on this topic, in French).

Developing good working conditions for service providers (calculating workload on an average maximum productivity level of 2,000 words per day for translators and maximum 6-hour working days for interpreters; applying a minimum rate; not including bank holidays in the calculation of delivery deadlines)

Social responsibility policy: Fairtrad is a member of the 1 % for the planet association whose members donate 1% of their turnover to non-profit organisations. This year, Fairtrad is supporting the GOVIIN KHULAN association.

Non-discrimination between men and women, or people of different origins and religions (pretty easy to do to be honest, but who knows, I could have been born narrow-minded).

Principles of fair trade:

Transparency and credibility: Fairtrad manages each project in total transparency and communicates to the customer, upon request, how much each translator working on the project is paid and their contact details, or vice versa, communicates to the linguist how much commission was taken. This is done to underline the fact that the services offered by an agency do add real value for the linguist and customer – not just mere business intermediation.

Individual ability: Fair trade is a means to developing producer autonomy. Fairtrad values its linguists for their professional and personal qualities and defends their interests during negotiations with customers. We do not ditch our best service providers for the first alternative linguist prepared to accept lower rates.

Paying a fair price: A fair price within a local or regional context is agreed upon through dialogue and consultation. The service provider and the customer are provided with all elements necessary to make this decision.

Principles of sustainable trade:

The translation business is amongst one of the least polluting there is: we only need a computer, telephone and Internet connection. Most translators work from home: they hence do not use transportation and use just about the same energy as anyone else to keep warm.  We print very few documents – proofreading and revision are now done using split screen display (except for legal translators whose lawyer clients love illegible PDFs or sworn translators who have to print their translations for certification purposes). True, interpreters do travel sometimes, but one usually calls upon interpreters available locally.

In my personal case, I share an office with other business operators, located exactly 550 metres from my front door. I use refillable ink cartridges; I do not print much and if I do, always double-sided; my computer, screen and printer are all low energy (Energy Star labelled); and I recycle waste at work.

The biggest concern is using the Web. Internet research pollutes too (as explained by Greenpeace in their report on the environmental dangers of the Cloud), but this research is also the basis of our profession. Fairtrad has opted for environmentally-friendly hosting of its website, implemented by the wonderful Internet technician and ecologist Yann Boulègue.  I hope that Google et al. will soon begin using renewable sources of energy for their servers, but until then I have found no other solution.

I am sure that – like me – many founders of VSEs manage their companies in an ethical and sustainable manner and that they feel very much alone in this ruthless world of the unscrupulous lowest bidder and large companies who monopolise the market.

Idealist friends, I urge all those who believe in a better world not to lose heart nor yield to the temptation of alignment and conformity: one day we shall meet. And we will found a cult 🙂