We published a post a couple of months ago about one of the burning ethical questions of outsourcing. It was the question as to whether outsourcing to overseas countries deprives people at home of job opportunities.
This question is one of two discussed time and again in relation to outsourcing. The other, which we’ll address in this article, is whether or not offshore outsourcing constitutes exploitation of people in less-developed countries, such as the Philippine Islands, where our company is based.
Is Outsourcing Ethical? It Depends
Our position on the matter lies in the middle ground of the argument, which is based on the assertion that “it depends.” Since we operate in the niche of small-business outsourcing for example, we can’t really comment on whether outsourcing industrial practices (such as manufacturing) can be classed as exploitation.
Therefore, we’ll stick to a discussion of the area that we know, and also to our belief that “it depends,” because surely there are cases in which virtual assistants can be exploited by clients or employers in wealthy countries overseas. Our staff members certainly don’t feel exploited, so perhaps it’s not so much a matter of outsourcing as a concept, but rather how you go about it.
The Filipino Virtual Assistant’s Perspective
When we look at the situation from our perspective, there are some important factors to bear in mind. For instance, in the Philippines, opportunities to earn an income sufficient to support a family are limited.
As an example, a salary of 25,000 pesos per month, or $650 (Australian) is considered exceptionally high and outside of urban areas like Manila, is unattainable for any but the most skilled professionals.
The vast majority of people in the Philippine provinces earn less than half of that sum. When working as a VA though, a Filipino with decent administrative skills or a specialisation (such as bookkeeping or website design) can earn 25,000 Pesos for working at home or perhaps somewhat more if he’s prepared to work for a company like ours where he must commute to an office facility.
Before the Internet became a household commodity and the virtual assistant profession emerged, the same skilled Filipino could but dream of some really lucky break to realise a salary like that.
So if you’re concerned about the ethics of paying between $500 and $1,000 per month for a full-time assistant to help you with your business activities, you can rest assured that no Filipino is going to feel less than satisfied with the income he or she will receive for providing the service.
Freedom of Choice in Careers
In order to exploit a virtual assistant, you would have to place her in a position where she felt she had no alternative but to take your offer of a contract.
Indeed, an offer of $500 or more per month can be hard to turn down, but that’s because it’s an attractive sum—not because Filipinos have a shortage of alternatives.
It’s just that many of those alternatives are far less palatable for a Filipino than helping small businesses to flourish by providing an affordable service, while making enough money not only to house and feed herself, but also to contribute substantially to the family income.
This last is a crucial factor, because in the Philippines, the family (as in grandparents, parents, siblings and children) and the ability to support it are fundamental elements in the hierarchy of personal needs.
Better to be a VA than an OFW
Perhaps it will help you to know that in many developed nations around the world, Filipinos are working in hospitals, on ships, in factories or in domestic service (maids, nannies, au pairs).
Nearly 2 million of these “overseas Filipino workers” (OFWs) spend months or years away from home, working for low wages in foreign countries, just to keep a roof over their families’ heads back home.
Some of the countries in question have official programs which determine how many OFWs can be present, how much they can earn, and what jobs they can have. Others have no such governance, leaving employers free to pay OFWs as much—or as little—as they wish.
In the presence of this situation then, is it unethical for a small-business owner to pay an affordable fee for the services of a Filipino only too pleased to work in his own locality (or even stay at home), as an alternative to leaving his family behind and heading halfway across the world?
The Client’s Perspective
Now let’s look at the situation from your point of view for a moment. Is it unethical for a small-business owner to spend between $500 and $1,000 per month on the services of an overseas virtual assistant?
After all, such a sum may be at the upper limits of what you can afford, yet is nowhere near enough to secure a local full-time employee, especially given the Australian minimum wage of $672 per week.
Is it exploitation to make use of a lower-cost service just because it originates in a lower-cost country? Perhaps it is if the client is a multi-million dollar corporation, but most VA’s clients are small businesses, start-ups, and entrepreneurs who just need a helping hand to keep on top of things.
Outsourcing: Good for Us, Good for You
Trust the word of the people who know—the Filipinos who work as virtual assistants. There is nothing unethical about working with us.
We’re free to choose how we generate an income, and we choose to help you develop and grow your business. When your business thrives and grows, you may be able to hire more local staff, so your economy benefits too. Perhaps with our help, that growth will come faster.
The more we experience growth as an outsourcing destination, the fewer of our people need to leave their loved ones behind to work overseas.
We’re happy that your money can flow into our nation’s economy, and our families can enjoy a far more reasonable standard of living than we could support in many other lines of work. And who knows? Depending on the nature of your business, perhaps you will export products into the Philippines; hence revenue flows back from our country to yours. Is it unethical to embrace growth in a global, rather than national economy?
Ethical or Not… What’s your Position?
The answers to ethical questions are rarely black or white and as in any area of commerce, there may well be VA companies that ask too much of their staff and offer too little.
Sweatshops are never ethical, but as long as you practice due diligence and avoid supporting such organisations, your conscience should be clear. There’s no exploitation in business-task outsourcing when the outcome is a win for both parties in the deal.
Of course that’s just our view. We’d love to know where you stand on the matter. Why not leave a comment below and share your thoughts about the ethics of outsourcing to overseas virtual assistants?