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I just declined an offer because of the client the translation would be for
Thread poster: Inez Ulrich

Inez Ulrich  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 11:41
Member (2016)
English to German
+ ...
Nov 14, 2017

Hi there,

this is the first time I said "no" to an offer because of the client. The translation would have been for a global player in agricultural products and chemicals, one of those companies that have a huge negative impact on environment. I said, I wouldn't support such companies.

Have you ever done this? I mean, pecuniam non odet, right? Or does it? I think, it does sometimes. It is difficult. A few months ago I wouldn't have dared to decline out of financial aspects, but even now I'm not rich (yet *lol*), but I feel I cannot do these things anymore, burdens my conscience too much. Am I wrong?


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xxxGitte Hoveds
Denmark
Local time: 11:41
Danish to English
+ ...
Good for you Nov 14, 2017

Of course you're not wrong.

You are an independent agent, and you can say yes or no to any job, for any number of reasons.

There are no rights and wrongs in such matters, it is entirely up to you to decide what kind of work you want to do. Isn't that part of the reason you became an independent translator?


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David Hayes  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 11:41
Member (2009)
French to English
No experience Nov 14, 2017

The saying you're after is actually 'pecunia non olet'.
To be honest, most of us probably have no idea if our clients are engaged in unscrupulous practices. While it's easy to condemn working for arms manufacturers who supply terrorists, as well as anything related to the exploitation of children, a good deal of shady practice is hard for us to know about. We could probably find a reason not to work for most people if we looked long enough. I guess we just have to avoid anything blatant. For my part, I've never yet refused a job for these reasons.

[Edited at 2017-11-14 10:06 GMT]


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Mark Nathan  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 11:41
Member (2002)
French to English
+ ...
It's a difficult decision Nov 14, 2017

Of course it's always good to uphold your principles. I have always thought "Pecunia non olet" was dubious - obviously money itself does not have an odour.
I have turned down a couple of jobs on ethical grounds, but I have to admit it was during a busy period and I had plenty of work. I am not sure I would make the same decision if it was the only work available, I like to think I would, but then there is the question of how you would pay your family's bills and put food on the table.
I guess the answer is to make sure you always have enough other work by marketing yourself/developing specialist fields etc. so that the situation never arises.


[Edited at 2017-11-14 08:26 GMT]


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Inez Ulrich  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 11:41
Member (2016)
English to German
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Too much Asterix... Nov 14, 2017

yes, of course, it is pecunia non olet....too much reading Asterix, I guess, or whatever makes my brain weird today

Yes, that's exaclty it: if I ned to pay my bills, then I'd probably accept that offer. But that exactly is the problem: declining because of ethical reasons or not and if yes, only when I can afford to? That is nonsense, of course, but on the other hand, food for my family etc. has priority. It is difficult, because it is hypocritical.

I don#t agree, however, that we cannot know if there are shady practices or not. I know what products this company produces and sells and those products are not only harmful for the environment, but also for those who use them. I also don't search long enough to find something fishy about each and every cleint, but these are obvious things and so my decision was quite easy today (and because I have enough jobs to feed my kids and pay my bills).

[Edited at 2017-11-14 08:39 GMT]


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:41
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Yes, I've done it Nov 14, 2017

Inez Ulrich wrote:
....
Have you ever done this?


I have refused various translations. One was for an extreme right-wing political organisation. Another was a market research survey about cigarette preferences.

My ethical convictions are more important to me than money. But I know many wouldn't care.

[Edited at 2017-11-14 08:43 GMT]


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Inez Ulrich  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 11:41
Member (2016)
English to German
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
... Nov 14, 2017

Tom in London wrote:

Inez Ulrich wrote:
....
Have you ever done this?


I have refused various translations. One was for an extreme right-wing political organisation. Another was a market research survey about cigarette preferences.

My ethical convictions are more important to me than money. But I know many wouldn't care.

[Edited at 2017-11-14 08:43 GMT]


That is great! I really hope I'll be always in a position to make exactly those choices that are oimportant for me.


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Kay-Viktor Stegemann
Germany
Local time: 11:41
Member (2016)
English to German
Freedom of speech Nov 14, 2017

You have, of course, every right to refuse jobs when they are against your personal moral compass. But I believe that we as translators don't have the job to censor the content we translate. On the contrary, as a translator I am committed to convey faithfully what the client wants to express, even if I strongly disagree with it. I will translate political opinions that are contrary to my own, I will translate statements about beauty products that I am quite sure are lies, I will in fact translate any sort of overblown marketing blah blah intended to make some company or product look good without checking if there is any truth in it.

In the end, we translators are exercising the freedom of speech for others, we extend their freedom of speech into other languages. As with any freedom, this comes with a risk.


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Michael Newton  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 05:41
Member (2003)
Japanese to English
+ ...
Declining a client Nov 14, 2017

Most likely this was Monsanto, the creator of Frankenfood and Frankenfish.

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Mario Chavez  Identity Verified
Local time: 05:41
English to Spanish
+ ...
We are translators, not doctors or preachers Nov 14, 2017

While I respect your ideals, Inez, I disagree with you in using them as a reason to climb up the moral ladder to stand taller than the client (be this a person or a company) you are refusing to do a translation for.

First and foremost, we are communicators. We do a translation to communicate a message, not to agree or disagree with it. Consider also what court interpreters in difficult cases have to do. If a defendant who committed a heinous claim wants to insult the judge or explain his/her twisted logic to do the crime, who am I as an interpreter to take away his/her freedom of expression? How is his/her lawyer supposed to do his/her job if I were to refuse to interpret for the criminal because I find the crime too horrible to discuss? What about interpreting for victims of horrible crimes, if the interpreter is against foul language or incest, child molestation, sex traffic, death by decapitation, etc.?

While I support the goal that translators become more visible professionally, we should become visible based on our professional merits, not on our personal ideals, religious values or other idiosyncrasies.

As per this potential client, in your words, a global player in agricultural products and chemicals, one of those companies that have a huge negative impact on environment, do you know for certain that everything this global player makes is detrimental to the environment? It seems to me that the same company (say, Bayer or Johnson & Johnson) that makes objectionable products is the same corporation responsible for making good, beneficial products.

After all, we are not talking about a tobacco products company, a company whose sole purpose is to make and sell tobacco products, which contribute to cancer, emphysema and other maladies.


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 10:41
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Personal boundaries Nov 14, 2017

It's society's job to protect the general public. unless the content is illegal. We don't need translation police, although we do have a duty to report illegal stuff, IMHO. But we as translators do have to protect ourselves and uphold our own principles, I'm sure we all have our own personal boundaries but they will vary enormously.

I refused a text that was written by a Muslim woman known for berating other women for not "living correctly". I can't be a party to their subjugation. But then I'm fussy about religious texts in general, as an atheist. OTOH, I thoroughly enjoyed editing some texts about sex toys, and swearing has never worried me in the least. I know others who feel very differently about those two more "earthy" areas. Those agro-chem giants certainly have a lot to answer for, but I'm not sure that I personally feel strongly enough about them to refuse their work. I think it would depend on the individual texts. But I accept that other translators might reject them out of hand.

Good to hear that you are doing well enough out of translation to be able to reject unsavoury jobs without worrying about putting food on the table. That has to be a goal to aim for .


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:41
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Anything Nov 14, 2017

Some people will just do anything, if the price is right. Translate the instructions for a cluster bomb? No problem. Happy to make it easier to blow the legs off children. Translate the chemical formula for a nicotinoid that is poisoning the land? Sure. Happy to help the company to sell more nicotinoids and kill off those pesky bees. As I was saying: some people just don't care.

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Christophe Delaunay  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 11:41
Member (2011)
Spanish to French
+ ...
But then again... Nov 14, 2017

Mario Chavez wrote:

After all, we are not talking about a tobacco products company, a company whose sole purpose is to make and sell tobacco products, which contribute to cancer, emphysema and other maladies.


Tobacco products company sponsor sporting events, which is so wonderful... how cares about the rest of their activities, really?!


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Inez Ulrich  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 11:41
Member (2016)
English to German
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
... Nov 14, 2017

Mario Chavez wrote:

While I respect your ideals, Inez, I disagree with you in using them as a reason to climb up the moral ladder to stand taller than the client (be this a person or a company) you are refusing to do a translation for.

First and foremost, we are communicators. We do a translation to communicate a message, not to agree or disagree with it. Consider also what court interpreters in difficult cases have to do. If a defendant who committed a heinous claim wants to insult the judge or explain his/her twisted logic to do the crime, who am I as an interpreter to take away his/her freedom of expression? How is his/her lawyer supposed to do his/her job if I were to refuse to interpret for the criminal because I find the crime too horrible to discuss? What about interpreting for victims of horrible crimes, if the interpreter is against foul language or incest, child molestation, sex traffic, death by decapitation, etc.?

While I support the goal that translators become more visible professionally, we should become visible based on our professional merits, not on our personal ideals, religious values or other idiosyncrasies.

As per this potential client, in your words, a global player in agricultural products and chemicals, one of those companies that have a huge negative impact on environment, do you know for certain that everything this global player makes is detrimental to the environment? It seems to me that the same company (say, Bayer or Johnson & Johnson) that makes objectionable products is the same corporation responsible for making good, beneficial products.

After all, we are not talking about a tobacco products company, a company whose sole purpose is to make and sell tobacco products, which contribute to cancer, emphysema and other maladies.


I don't climb any ladder, I just don't want to be a helper for their business success, something that damages something that is very, very precious to me.

It also has nothing to do with professionalism. But I have a choice. I also have the choice not to accept a job that isn't paid very well. Am I not professional because I decide that way?

They are not Monsanto and not bayer or Johnson & Johnson, but even if they were and produce "good, beneficial products" they are still the ones who do more harm than good. Much more harm. So I won't work for them.


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Jan Truper
Germany
Local time: 11:41
Member (2016)
English to German
+ ...
I do it all the time Nov 14, 2017

I decline jobs based on my personal values almost on a daily basis.
I usually don't name the reason (I don't want the poor PM to feel like he/she is complicit in something despicable), but just decline the job. I don't work for airlines, tobacco companies, a**hole chemical giants, most banks, etc.

Obviously, it's pretty much impossible to exclusively work for companies that only do good for the world -- unfortunately, there aren't many of them. But within the range of jobs that I am offered, moral considerations play an important part when I decide what I take on.

I wouldn't hold it against anybody to do such work if they have to feed their children, and I count myself lucky to be at a point in my life and career that allows me to even have such considerations. But I think the world would generally be a much better place if people wouldn't constantly drown their conscience in filthy lucre, both in their work and consumption habits.

The "freedom of speech" argument does not hold universally, in my opinion.
There is a difference between translating court documents containing statements of an a**hole company and using your linguistic prowess to do marketing for an a**hole company, for example. In my view, the latter makes you complicit.


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