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Is it unethical to accept prepaid work from an agency that owes other translators?
Thread poster: LegalTransform

LegalTransform  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 14:02
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Jul 26, 2012

An agency contacted me today about a small project. As always, I consulted the BlueBoard and discovered that this particular agency has an abysmal payment record (over twenty "1s" and several "2s" in the past year alone and they owe dozens of translators amounts ranging from $50.00 to up to $10,000, they are not responding to e-mail, etc.). One can only imagine that there must be other translators who are owed money and who did not make an entry.

My initial reaction when this happens is to request advance payment from the agency. However, a thought occurred to me: in the unlikely event that the agency agreed to this condition, wouldn't it still be unethical to accept work from this agency knowing that they had cheated so many other translators? In this case the project was only $150.00 so this decision was easy, but what if the job were worth $5,000.00 and they agreed to pay in advance? Should we turn the work down?

I would say yes, we should, but perhaps others feel differently?



[Edited at 2012-07-26 19:26 GMT]


 

Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 20:02
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Enough reading! Jul 26, 2012

Jeff Whittaker wrote:
An agency contacted me today about a small project. As always, I consulted the BlueBoard and discovered that this particular agency has an abysmal payment record (over twenty "1s" and several "2s" in the past year alone...

Enough reading. This is more than enough for me to reject the offer.

Edited to add this: What I want to say is that any honest person should steer away from dishonest people. They will always find a way of tricking you into things, and in your heart you know it. Listen to your heart!

[Edited at 2012-07-26 19:24 GMT]


 

Edward Vreeburg  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 20:02
Member (2008)
English to Dutch
+ ...
who knows they might have new management.. Jul 26, 2012

I'd go with upfront payment too, that's what the BB is for, and maybe with the money they make on your job they can pay another translator... 1's and 2's don't seem to hurt them nor cause them to stop their practices...

Ed


 

Vitals  Identity Verified
Lithuania
Local time: 21:02
Member (2008)
English to Lithuanian
+ ...
Prepayment can still be dangerous Jul 26, 2012

Well, if you are talking of say 50 % prepayment, it is still dangerous, as this is all they might pay you... And leave the other 50 % in their pockets.

If it is a 100 % one, well, maybe...

On a similar note, just got a reply to my third reminder from a Hungarian agency that, supposedly, can not pay me x,000 EUR because "some clients did not pay us, we are gathering the funds now", for a delayed payment since June. And when you look at their BueBoard, June-July 2012 are full of "payment on time" comments... How come they have funds to pay others, and have no funds to pay delayed payments to me?


[Edited at 2012-07-26 19:52 GMT]


 

Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 20:02
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Others were probably too benevolent Jul 26, 2012

Vitals wrote:
On a similar note, just got a reply to my third reminder from a Hungarian agency that, supposedly, can not pay me x,000 EUR because "some clients did not pay us, we are gathering the funds now", for a delayed payment since June. And when you look at their BueBoard, June-July 2012 are full of "payment on time" comments... How come they have funds to pay others, and have no funds to pay delayed payments to me?

To me, it is not acceptable that an agency does not have the money to pay you even if the customer does not pay, so this is your chance to report the matter in the Blueboard as soon as you have been paid.


 

Robert Forstag  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 14:02
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
100% payment in advance, directly deposited into personal bank account... Jul 26, 2012

....or 100% transfer of funds via bank draft, PayPal, or some similar manner that allows you to quickly verify receipt of payment. Unacceptable: checks, PayPal e-checks, or any other form of payment that is not immediately verifiable.

This is what I would demand, and under these circumstances, I would accept working for the kind of contractor Jeff mentions. (Although for a mere $150, I probably also wouldn't be bothered.)

I would not consider such an agreement unethical. It is simply intelligent business to act on information at your disposal and minimize (or, as in this case, completely eliminate) risk, in situations where high risk exists.

Anyway, agreeing to such an arrangement could (as Ed points out) enable the agency in question use the money to pay off some of their delinquent accounts. And, in a broader sense, such an arrangement could constitute one step on the road to redemption of an agency eager to mend its ways.

So, in that sense, your acceptance of such work could even be seen as having a certain spiritual dimension.

After all, a sinner who shows true repentence deserves to be warmly embraced, and not haughtily dismissed....

[Edited at 2012-07-26 20:37 GMT]


 

Tina Vonhof
Canada
Local time: 12:02
Member (2006)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Agree with Jeff Jul 26, 2012

I agree with you Jeff, although I can't really specify why it would be unethical. It's just the way I feel about it. It seems like profiting from a situation in which others have been disadvantaged. In any case, I doubt that the agency would agree to pre-payment and if you decide not to accept the job at all, I would definitely tell them why.

 

Lau Wei Tsinn  Identity Verified
Singapore
Local time: 02:02
Member (2011)
Chinese to English
+ ...
You are responsible only for yourself Jul 27, 2012

Jeff...

There is no need to feel responsible for others since you are not the one wielding the sword over them.

Accepting money from the company does not mean that you condone their payment habits. In fact, you do not and that is precisely why you need a 100% upfront payment from them before you start work since their credit standing is so low. That said, I agree with Tomas's "steer away from dishonest people", especially if you already have enough clients to keep you going. Being on your guard all the time takes energy, gives you no satisfaction and is basically a pain in the ***.

I don't think this is a question of ethics but it may lead to a question of how far we can bring the level of community solidarity to. Do we reject a job in principle because someone in our community of translators is not paid? It's like saying "Pay up before WE work for you!". Personally, I won't go so far as to say that because I believe that individual freelancers need to take basic responsibility for their own income ins and outs. The blue board is there to support us in the event we need some extra help in sussing out new clients. If an outsourcer is not trustworthy, they will find it more difficult to find freelancers and it's up to them whether or not to clean up their act.

Wei


 

Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 20:02
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
We make a difference in creating a sound market Jul 27, 2012

Lau Wei Tsinn wrote:
I don't think this is a question of ethics but it may lead to a question of how far we can bring the level of community solidarity to. Do we reject a job in principle because someone in our community of translators is not paid?

Yes, in my opinion we should: bad outsourcers should not have a place in our market and should have a really hard time convincing good translators to work for them.

Ultimately, only desperate, less qualified/attentive/careful translators will work for them (once or twice), and the agency's global quality will be so poor that they will start losing customers and eventually close down. That's my picture of it. Refusing to work for bad business partners is both good for me, good for the profession, and good for reliable business partners.


 

Sabine Deutsch  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 20:02
French to German
+ ...
Same here Jul 27, 2012

Tomás Cano Binder, CT wrote:

Ultimately, only desperate, less qualified/attentive/careful translators will work for them (once or twice), and the agency's global quality will be so poor that they will start losing customers and eventually close down. That's my picture of it. Refusing to work for bad business partners is both good for me, good for the profession, and good for reliable business partners.


I have one of those as well, I decided to give them a try on an interesting project despite a bad BB ranking, they accepted my rate and the first one or two jobs they paid but only after a few reminders. I now only work for them against up-front payment and they tend to call on me less. They obviously sort of try out the kind of translators Tomás mentions who they very often don't pay and then move on to the next.

I have the same sort of odd feeling every time I work for them. I secure my own business and the jobs and money they offer me are interesting, but in doing so, I don't contribute to stopping these practices.

Good question and food for thought.


 

neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 20:02
Spanish to English
+ ...
Unethical, yes Jul 27, 2012

However I doubt very much the agency would agree to pay you up front, so I supppose the question is rhetorical. I certainly wouldn't accept anything from them in any case, and would make sure I also told them exactly why not.

 

neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 20:02
Spanish to English
+ ...
I wonder Jul 27, 2012

Vitals wrote:

Well, if you are talking of say 50 % prepayment, it is still dangerous, as this is all they might pay you... And leave the other 50 % in their pockets.

If it is a 100 % one, well, maybe...

On a similar note, just got a reply to my third reminder from a Hungarian agency that, supposedly, can not pay me x,000 EUR because "some clients did not pay us, we are gathering the funds now", for a delayed payment since June. And when you look at their BueBoard, June-July 2012 are full of "payment on time" comments... How come they have funds to pay others, and have no funds to pay delayed payments to me?


[Edited at 2012-07-26 19:52 GMT]


I wonder if it's the same Hungarian-based outfit that stiffed me a couple of years ago... which is why I now only work with clients within physical reach, so I can "send the boys round" if it ever happens again.


 

Philippe Etienne  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 20:02
Member
English to French
The issue never occurred to me Jul 27, 2012

neilmac wrote:
However I doubt very much the agency would agree to pay you up front, so I supppose the question is rhetorical...

I happened to reply to an agency with an appalling BB record, and the fact that other translators hadn't been paid never entered the picture. Of course 100%payment before starting work and a hefty quote weren't accepted.
If an agency hadn't paid me, I wouldn't expect colleagues to boycott it either for "ethical" reasons.

If I were to sell weapons used to kill civilians, my conscience would likely remind me of what's right and wrong. Against a well-paid and interesting translation project, I don't really take into account the customer's business practices with other service providers. For all I care, they might as well be squatting a building without paying the rent to an old lady for the past 3 decades. Or maybe the PM beats his/her spouse. Ignorance is sometimes a bliss.

Philippe


 

Angie Garbarino  Identity Verified
Member (2003)
French to Italian
+ ...
Yes same here Jul 27, 2012

neilmac wrote:
I also told them exactly why not.


It is important in those cases to let them know why we refuse, I did like that 2 or 3 times in the past years.


 

Charlie Bavington  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:02
French to English
Tacit acceptance of poor standards Jul 27, 2012

Obviously, there are two sides to every story, and all that, and plenty of stuff goes on that we don't know about, but I feel that agreeing to work for a firm that has previously stiffed other people equates to tacit acceptance that their behaviour is acceptable. Furthermore, by agreeing to do a job albeit at no risk to yourself, you are helping to keep them afloat, so they can do it again.

I would rather play no part in helping them. And I laugh in the face of any "they might have turned over a new leaf" argument. Leopards rarely change their spots. If sinners want to show true repentance, there are better ways of going about it than agreeing to pay self-centred opportunists up-front.


 
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