Open Thread: Would You Work For...?

A few months ago, there was some discussion on other blogs about companies that our fellow translators and interpreters would not work for due to ethical reasons. Among the companies that were mentioned by our colleagues were weapons manufacturers, extremists groups, companies that are known to explore workers in developing countries, businesses that don't share the translator's religious views, and many others. We think this is a fascinating subject, and we've put some thought into it throughout the years. Our guidelines aren't set in stone, but in general, we have declined work from weapons manufacturers, companies that make sexually explicit materials, extremist groups on all political sides, companies that exploit women, etc.  Some companies we've had concerns about, but weren't quite sure. Sometimes it's a bit of a challenge to research exactly how companies conduct their business affairs. When in doubt, we go with our gut (which isn't a foolproof method, of course). Of course, this conversation opens a can of worms. How do we know that a specific clothing manufacturer doesn't violate labor laws? And what about the semiconductor company? Are they discriminating against some folks in their hiring practices? If yes, should that be a deal-breaker? No business, including ours, is perfect. There's lots of food for thought here, and we're not proposing that all translators stick to a specific ethical standard. Rather, we are just interested to hear how our colleagues have handled this and what their views are on the subject.

What about you, dear colleagues? Do you accept work from all customers? Do you have specific guidelines? If yes, what are they? We'd love to hear your thoughts. One of our colleagues is also thinking about writing an article on this topic for the American Translators Association's Chronicle magazine, so we figured we'd get the conversation started right here.

Please chime in by leaving a comment below.


Megan on April 21, 2012 at 10:34 AM said...

Hi guys,

I share your thoughts on this issue and I have also declined work from certain companies in the past.

I also see this area in another way, in that I will make an effort to work with companies and organisations who display great ethical practices, or raise awareness for a charity that is particularly close to my heart. I may even reduce my rates or provide a free service.

pennifer on April 21, 2012 at 12:52 PM said...

This hasn't been an issue, but since my niche is environmental conservation and indigenous cultures, I would not work for large resource development companies (mining, oil/gas, etc.). In general, I do almost no corporate work. In addition to freelance translation, I also direct a small conservation non-profit (about 50/50) , so it's important for me to consider my freelancing clientele... I suppose if my translation volume was higher and (more important) my clientele more diverse, I'd probably develop my own guidelines, just to keep things clear, but since I have a fairly steady client list, there's not much need for it.

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on April 24, 2012 at 3:00 PM said...

@Megan: thanks for the comment! Excellent idea to give discount to specific companies. We also have a non-profit rate available.

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on April 24, 2012 at 3:01 PM said...

@Pennifer: you are in a lucky position of probably not being confronted with this issue. What a fantastic niche you work in! We don't know anyone else with that specialization. What are your languages?

katie on May 10, 2012 at 10:06 PM said...

I think it's almost impossible to truly know a company's inner workings unless you have worked for them, so you will most likely have to make an educated guess about if you think they operate with good ethical standards or not. If you suspect they don't, it might be best to walk away. This unfortunately extends to charities too, though there are many great non-profit organizations out there. I really like the idea of offering them a discount rate like Judy and Dagmar do.

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on May 11, 2012 at 10:42 AM said...

@Katie: good point about not being able to completely know what goes on inside a company. Sometimes we are quite surprised when ethics violations surface -- such as the recent Apple scandal. Thanks for commenting and reading!

Join the conversation! Commenting is a great way to become part of the translation and interpretation community. Your comments don’t have to be overly academic to get published. We usually publish all comments that aren't spam, self-promotional or offensive to others. Agreeing or not agreeing with the issue at hand and stating why is a good way to start. Social media is all about interaction, so don’t limit yourself to reading and start commenting! We very much look forward to your comments and insight. Let's learn from each other and continue these important conversations.

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