Choosing a service provider: a political issue

We’re in an economic crisis. Translators knew this already since the price of translation has not increased in the last five years (it has even decreased these last two years).

However, we can’t place all the blame for this contraction in the market on translation agencies. There are others responsible in far higher places.

Fairtrad has submitted over ten quotations during the last twelve months to ministries in France and Italy, to embassies and NGOs, at an average rate of €0.15/ per source word (including pdf>doc conversion, translation and proofreading), and has never been accepted.  These institutions have an obligation of transparency and must therefore divulge the winning bid to the service providers consulted.  It appears that the average sale price from agency to institution is €0.10 per source word, which means that the translator was paid €0.05 per word and the proofreader €0.02 (blame quickly shifting to “translators” who accept such conditions).

Now, I can understand that the first instinct of your everyday private company director will be to always get the lowest price (even if it means explaining to them that they don’t know how to buy their translations properly).

However, I am outraged at this type of reasoning when it comes to a public organisation.

How can the Ministry for Ecology or the United Nations – to mention but two – choose the lowest bidder without regard for the service provider’s working conditions?

If even those who should be promoting high quality work performed in dignified conditions, who should be helping small companies and promoting sustainable development, base their choice on rates alone, I don’t see how we can defend our case with other market players.  Selecting a service provider is not just an economic choice, but also a political one:  if I offer you a pair of shoes costing 10 euros, you can imagine that the factory which manufactures them exploits its workers and does not comply with anti-pollution standards. And your opponents would be right to point their finger at you for being morally reprehensible.

So why should a translation agency which sells translations at 0.08 per word be considered as honest as a competitor selling at double the price? Why this bad faith prompting people to believe it is the more costly trying to rip you off, and not the other way round?

I find it inacceptable that “decision-makers” working in public companies and NGOs do not take into account elements such as social and environmental responsibility, transparency or quality when they purchase their translations. It really is the last straw to think that our profession is scorned by the very people who are supposed to help develop the most endangered of causes.

I therefore appeal to these decision-makers: seeking economies of scale in the sale of intellectual services is simply immoral – the raw materials involved are real men and women. You hadn’t thought it through? Fairtrad has opened your eyes. Take action accordingly.


  • So what should I do? Just because “business is business” (a sentence that’s far more dangerous than it may seem), I have to shut up and let the more corrupted ones decide how the system goes? I can at least speak out and spot the rotten part of it. I am not asking them to pay me MORE, I a am asking them to pay the FAIR average market price. Besides that, I am a cynical capitalist and a bourgeois (and not a naive Alice in Communist Wonderland as you may suggest) but this does not mean I have to be on the dark side with my fellow aggressive businessmen. It is not because “business is business” that it is fine to lie and cheat, it is not because you are a freelancer that it is fair that you work 14 hours a day to make a living and, pardon my French darling, it is not because everybody is a asshole that it is ok being one.

  • …and there’s nothing wrong in buying a $400 purse, provided you earned that money in an honorable way.

  • kleinRD

    …..I’d be more than happy to buy $400 shoes (a purse just wouldn’t look good on my shoulder!).

    Let me explain this again, but in even stronger terms. Grow UP! You sound like a 20-something throwback to the 1960’s. “Give Peace a Chance!” “Save the Rain Forest!” “Stop Corporate Greed!” And all that other immature crap. Even the name of your blog shouts that you are “Fair” and therefore, a better person than the rest of us. I’ll bet you even have bumperstickers on your Prius and wear 2 or 3 colored bracelets to show how much you care about some “worthy” cause.

    Here’s the bottom line: You control your life and your business. If you don’t like the price you are being offered, then find a market niche that will pay you what you want. If you can’t find that niche, then create it. Still no luck? Then try something else. Life is not, nor supposed to be, FAIR! Life is an opportunity, nothing more, nothing less.

    By the way, I do like Paris…not love, but Like! My wife and I always stay at the Agora St. Germain, 42, Rue des Bernadins.

  • I do have found a niche market: providing fair services. Not because I am better than other people, but because I believe that some people might care, just as they do care when they buy organic food or boycott sweatshops.
    It worked quite fine for the fair trade companies selling goods (Max Haveelar, for instance).
    As for the idealists side, Greenpeace, the WWF or the Red Cross are “saving” the world right now. You can thank them for doing the stupid job on your behalf.
    I agree with you just on the fact that life stinks. It does. But I am doing my best to avoid making it worse.

    And I can s-troll on St Germain des Prés with my expensive shoes whenever I want 😉