Ethics of sourcing global translation - Multilingual Connections

Ethics of sourcing global translation

Ethics of sourcing global translation
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As business expands globally, budgets can be stretched thin. These budget realities can make it tempting to let cost drive the decision-making process when sourcing language solution providers (LSPs). Companies and organizations may opt to hire translators directly, or look to an established LSP to assign the work to their network of linguists. Either way, the first focus is typically on how to obtain the best work for the best price. Beyond mitigating the risk of getting something wrong in the work, however, ethical considerations of sourcing global translation should also be addressed. To do this, it is important to understand how this global marketplace works.

The global translation market operates much like Uber or Lyft – with a bevy of independent contractors doing the nuts-and-bolts work. It’s a global workforce that is naturally diverse and dispersed. Each contractor accepts jobs based on fit in terms of not only language, but also, their background, specialties, interests, availability – and pay. Because they are independent contractors, translators receive no tangible employee benefits. Working within this framework ethically should prompt questions about how these LSP relationships can be equitable while maximizing the quality of work and realizing the cost-savings benefits of this low-overhead structure. 

Ethical Considerations 

The most simple approach to ensuring a fair working environment is the pursuit of partnership. Finding an LSP who establishes long-term relationships with localized translators is a mutually advantageous proposition. But length of time working together alone does not ensure equitable relationships. A few other considerations can further the likelihood of working ethically when sourcing global translation services: 

stream of work

Stream of Work

Providing a regular and ongoing workstream rather than sporadic projects creates a more stable work environment for independent contractors. 

standardization of wages

Standardization of Wages

Having a standardized wage system in place speeds up the process of gathering quotes for work and awarding projects. It also removes questions around change orders when projects expand or contract. This predetermined standard provides guardrails to protect both the buyer and the worker should projects change in scope. For the translator, it provides a firm and predictable financial outcome to the project and on-going work. 

opportunity for ownership

Opportunity for Ownership

Bringing a linguist in on a project earlier in the process and including them on the creative brief provides an opportunity for them to take ownership in the success of the project beyond the simple translation. Experienced translators can often provide great localization insight or proactively think about project pitfalls and help prevent problems that can cause unnecessary delay. This both incorporates the wisdom of a seasoned translator and adds weight to the value of the service they provide. 

community building

Community Building

Engaging multiple linguists beyond specific projects for “community” meet-ups provides a shared camaraderie and establishes a network within which best practices can easily be shared. Better mental health and work satisfaction arise from proper team building communication regardless of how tight or loosely knit the affiliation. 

ongoing training

Ongoing Training

Few companies invest in training independent contractors, but it can be a tremendous benefit to create proficiency with frequently used software or project management systems. Investing in the knowledge base for individuals and contractors working together on shared projects can consistently deliver higher quality work and improve the workforce over time.  

These ethical considerations are the basis of an ecosystem where independent workers can thrive and carve out long-term careers. The benefits include higher retention, more predictable project completion rates, and higher quality work product. 

These same considerations apply when choosing to work with an LSP and their established network of linguists, translators, cultural nuance experts, transcreation professionals, and more. While the vendor is chosen, ultimately, the work will be assigned within that provider’s network. Asking questions about how these specialists are vetted and treated can also provide insight and confidence that the vendor is operating ethically within their pool of independent contractors. 

Great questions to ask include: 

  • How are translators vetted?
  • How are projects assigned within the pool of potential candidates? 
  • Are pricing standards commensurate with experience? 
  • Are pricing standards in compliance with local laws and living wage parameters? 
  • How are new-to-network contractors onboarded? 

Establishing a partnership with a trusted vendor provides the confidence that projects and people will be managed ethically. But once this is understood, it can still be unclear why prices vary significantly from project to project. To evaluate proper pricing, it is essential to understand the elements which figure into levels of difficulty and expertise needed for the full range of translation jobs. 

Why do prices in translation services vary so much?

When reviewing quotes, this information will help teams determine fair pricing based on the scope of work. 

target language

Target Language

The difference in pricing between languages is certainly influenced by the difficulty of the language and the availability of expert translators, but it is much more a function of supply and demand. For example, there is high demand for translation from English to Spanish, which attracts a large pool of qualified translators. This large-scale availability of experts drives down this price for piecework. Conversely, languages like Japanese or Arabic are in less demand and therefore command a premium price in order to match a qualified linguist to the project. Local recruiting costs also come into play regarding specific languages. For example, if the cost of living where qualified linguists reside is high, the cost of translation will consequently command a premium. 

type of translation

Type of Translation

Straightforward renditions of original writing are naturally lower in cost than more nuanced translations of subjective communications such as movie titles or copywriting. Similarly, when subject matter expertise is required (such as legal, medical, market research, law enforcement, etc.), costs typically rise. Verbatim transcripts are lower cost than so-called transcreation, which is much more subjective and demands the highest level of cultural nuance.

tight timing

Tight Timing

Prices can also vary depending on the deadline. Additional things that can cause unforeseen time compression include in-country religious holidays, bank holidays or seasonal workforce breaks. 

As businesses expand globally and tap into cooperative or corporate structures for translation services, being mindful of the way these services are sourced and paid for contributes a comprehensive care for the ethics in this industry. Partnering with a respected LSP with a strong vetting system and an equitable system for project compensation for localized linguists is a great start to ensuring good global citizenship in the pursuit of excellence in translation.


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We periodically share news and updates around translation, language and culture. Rest assured we’ll never share your contact information with anyone!