Oxford English for Cheap: The Dark Side of Offshore Call Centers

By Mehdi Boussebaa.

Offshoring of call center work to ‘developing’ nations by Western companies has become a huge business. For many, it represents a positive force of ‘globalisation’, bringing not only labor cost benefits to Western companies but also employment and career opportunities to ‘developing’ nations. Others, however, see a darker side. Call center work is often exploitative, oppressive and talent-wasting as it puts university-educated workers through ‘dreary work, unsocial hours and Big Brother-style observation’ (The Observer, 30 October 2005). Plus, these workers often experience abuse and racism on the phone and even lose – partly at least – their identity in an attempt to pass for Westerners. According to Shehzad Nadeem, training Indian workers in a ‘neutral’ global English accent may have the effect that these workers get stripped of their mother tongue (The Guardian, 9 February 2011). A recently published study in the Journal of International Business Studies (Englishization in offshore call centers: A postcolonial perspective) goes even further: training and monitoring the ability of Indian workers to speak ‘pure’ English in some ways re-creates colonial relations and further divides the West from the rest. Why is that?

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Slumdog Millionaires: Can Impact Sourcing Alleviate Poverty?

By Chacko Kannothra and Stephan Manning.

Call centers, tech support, payroll processing – more and more service jobs are performed abroad. Global outsourcing is one of the most controversial trends of our time. To some, it is mainly a cost-cutting exercise which has led to job losses in Western economies and has started a ‘global race to the bottom’. The recent shift of clients and providers to second and third-tier outsourcing locations to keep labor costs low is an indicator of that. To others, outsourcing has also generated new income and entrepreneurial opportunities especially in developing countries. Clearly, in particular for the young and educated in urban areas, such as Bangalore in India, the outsourcing sector has been a career stepping stone. But how about the vast majority who still live in poverty? Will the global service industry widen the gap between the new urban elite and the rest? Maybe not if we believe in the new trend of ‘impact sourcing’ – the creation of outsourcing jobs and training opportunities for the poor and disadvantaged, in particular from slums and rural areas. Impact sourcing was celebrated a few weeks ago at the 17th World Outsourcing Summit as a promising way of combining business and social benefit. The Rockefeller Foundation even calls it a means towards reducing poverty. But are these claims realistic?

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Tech support en français s’il vous plaît!? The challenges of becoming a new global outsourcing hub

By Stephan Manning.

Outsourcing of IT, tech support and other business services has become a global trend. Watching India’s success in the outsourcing space, many developing countries now try to grow their own business service economy. Even African countries, including South Africa, Egypt, Morocco, Ghana, and Mauritius, have built up outsourcing capabilities in recent years (see recent article by Abbott). In fact, 8 out of the Top 100 outsourcing destinations worldwide, according to the latest 2013 Tholons Ranking, are located in Africa. Not surprisingly, Kenya’s government for example also lists business process outsourcing (BPO) as a major economic building block in their Vision 2030. Boasting an improved IT infrastructure, political stability and English language capabilities, Kenya is hoping to become a major BPO hub. Other countries are following suit. But what does it really take to become a global outsourcing hub? Can any country with low-cost labor, a good IT infrastructure and favorable business climate join the club? Continue reading