The anti-globalization movement of the 1990s was a reaction to many emerging trends. One of them was a shift away from the domestic production of goods. By using complex global supply chains and an array of sub-contractors, it was held, companies could distance themselves from exploitive production processes (read: sweatshops) in developing countries. Corporations argued that producing goods abroad was necessary to remain competitive, and provided jobs to millions of desperately poor people. Thus emerged fair trade,”an organized social movement and market-based model of international trade which promotes the payment of a fair price as well as social and environmental standards in areas related to the production of a wide variety of goods.”
As far as I know, there’s no equivalent social movement behind the fair trade in services. While it’s harder to exploit knowledge workers, it’s certainly not impossible — the outsourcing world is filled with stories of questionable business practices on the part of vendors. Some staff their companies using contract search firms that impose severe limits on how employees communicate with employers, others require new workers to sign contracts prohibiting them from quitting to work for another outsourcing company, and others don’t provide safe transportation for call center workers’ notorious night-shifts.
What would it take to create a brand around responsible outsourcing? A few things:
1. A comprehensive set of standards for vendors (incorporating a code of conduct for the treatment of workers, and some environmental and financial guidelines)
2. A rigorous qualification and auditing process
3. A network of vendors that qualify
4. An organization to develop the standards, affirm them with authorities (like the folks who developed similar guidelines for TransFair USA, or B Corporation), and build awareness of their value to vendors and clients
Samasource aims to be number 4 by developing 1 through 3. Eventually, we hope to create a widely-recognized fair trade label for services that is able to quantify the development impact of outsourcing and make sure it takes off in places where jobs are particularly scarce.
In our view, it just doesn’t make sense that talented people who are stuck living in poor countries (for no reason other than an accident of birth) can’t sell their labor on the global market without moving to Europe or America.