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Refusing work on the basis of personal principles
Thread poster: Heather Shaw
Heather Shaw  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 06:47
Member (2008)
Arabic to English
+ ...
Aug 14, 2008

Say an outsourcer asks you if you are available to translate a text of so many words in so many days without specifying the topic of the text...

You're available, the pay is good, so you agree.

Then, when you get the text, you discover that the text violates your personal moral or religous principles...

What do you do?


Should you have requested to see a sample of the text before agreeing in the first place?

Should you apologize to the outsourcer that you can't translate the text for personal reasons?

Should you swallow your principles and just do the work?


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 05:47
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Say no Aug 14, 2008

Politely turn down the job without making a fuss. Give any reason you like.

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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 05:47
Member (2008)
Italian to English
and furthermore Aug 14, 2008

if you are able to override your own principles in exchange for filthy lucre.....I'm afraid your principles don't work, and you might as well not have any !

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Amy Duncan  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 02:47
Portuguese to English
+ ...
Always ask to see the text Aug 14, 2008

Heather Shaw wrote:

Should you have requested to see a sample of the text before agreeing in the first place?




Personally, I never, ever accept a job without seeing at least a sample of the text, and normally the entire text.


Amy


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Alexandre Chaves
Spain
Local time: 06:47
Professional x Personal Aug 14, 2008

Try to do the job with a professional point of view. It’s about to translate information, not to express your ideas about it. On the other hand, if you consider yourself really bad doing the job, apologize and refuse it.

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Karen Stokes  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 05:47
Member (2003)
French to English
Ask for a sample Aug 14, 2008

Hi Heather,

It seems to me there are a couple of issues here.

On a practical level, I wouldn't accept a job without having seen either the whole document or at least a sample first - otherwise I don't see how it's possible for me to assess whether I can take the job and complete it within the agreed time frame.

The other point is about a clash of principles - on a personal level I may not be comfortable with the subject matter, but on the other hand there's a professional code of ethics at work (not to mention a contractual obligation) that says I should complete an assignment once I've accepted it.

Ultimately I guess you need to decide whether you feel so strongly about one set of principles that you're willing to compromise the other set, and whether it would affect your ability to do a professional job.

Best,

karen


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 22:47
English to Spanish
+ ...
No text, no Commitment Aug 14, 2008

It is not a good idea to accept any job sight unseen, in fact without seeing the text in its entirety before making a commitment. Thus your commitment should always be subject to that. There are many reasons for that in addition to any personal objections you might have to the text itself, which is not a very frequent reason for turning down a job.

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ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 00:47
English to French
+ ...
If you are allergic to peanuts... Aug 14, 2008

I am a 110% with you on refusing to take on work that goes against your convictions/beliefs/principles/etc. I could translate filthy XXX websites if I wanted to, the pay is good, the people are nice - but thanks, no thanks. Finding eloquent ways to describe what somebody's very private business just isn't my cup of tea, no matter how much they would pay me.

But it will not help you if you don't make sure you are avoiding things that are against your principles. Same way most muslims, when they eat outside of a muslim setting, always ask if there is any pork in the food.

It's your right to refuse things that you don't morally agree with - but then, it is your obligation to check that you don't make an engagement that will force you to go ahead and do things against your principles.


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Terjumaan  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 05:47
English to Arabic
+ ...
no comittment without subject matter being subject disclosed Aug 14, 2008

Hi heather,

This is exactly what happened to me recently , I was offered a large project but was not given details, on close scrutiny and questioning it became evident that the project went against my principles and ethics and therefore declined it.

One should always demand the subject matter of any assignments and full document. I learnt a lesson from this not to make any commitment without being clear.


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RNAtranslator  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:47
English to Spanish
+ ...
I can't believe Aug 14, 2008

Heather Shaw wrote:

Say an outsourcer asks you if you are available to translate a text of so many words in so many days without specifying the topic of the text...



What about if the text were on quantum mechanics, biochemistry, metaphysics, laws, occultism...? are you able to fully understand texts about these and many other fields even in your mother tongue?. If the answer is "yes", congratulations, you are a genius. You should translate ideas, not words; if you can't understand the ideas in the source text you shouldn't translate it.

What about if the text were so badly written you could hardly understand it?. It could be an awful translation of another source text.

And, as it is the case, what about if it conflicts with your political, moral, religious or philosophical principles?

I can't believe you accept it without reading the full text first, as Henry does.

Whatever you do, it will be wrong. You accepted, so, you should do it. But you should never violate your principles. I would turn it down, but you should emphatically apolologize.


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KSL Berlin  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 05:47
Member (2003)
German to English
+ ...
Sometimes it's not that easy Aug 14, 2008

Viktoria Gimbe wrote:
It's your right to refuse things that you don't morally agree with - but then, it is your obligation to check that you don't make an engagement that will force you to go ahead and do things against your principles.


I once got stuck with a truly evil text from a highly ethical outsourcer whom I trust completely. The job came in late in the day for delivery early the next morning, I was very busy, and when he told me the text was about "airports" I had no reason to doubt him.

In fact it was about a virtual online "airport" portal intended to encourage underage smoking. No kidding. The jerk who wrote the text even bragged about circumventing the strict laws against tobacco advertising in the US.

Because it was obviously an honest mistake on my client's part, I bit the bullet and did the translation. It was arguably the worst translation I have ever done, though that was not intentional. I simply found it hard to be brilliant when every sentence reminded me of the gruesome death by lung cancer of family members.

I learned a lesson from that - some principles will have to trump others, and in a case like that, my moral objections must take precedence over client loyalty. To the outsourcer's credit, when he found out what had happened, he told the end customer to keep his money and take a long walk off a short pier with it. I had already had the text fixed by another translator, but the outsourcer (a smoker himself) found the source text so repugnant that he refused to deliver it to his client. Still, I try to take a closer look at everything now before accepting a job, even if it comes from people I trust. Sometimes the problems aren't apparent with just a quick glance.


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xxxPeter Manda
Local time: 00:47
German to English
+ ...
turning down work Aug 14, 2008

I agree with the consensus (good to know there is a consensus!).

I have turned down work for "moral" reasons twice: Once because the text turned out to be a religious document espousing views that my wife was very uncomfortable with (I didn't care, but she did; and that's good enough for me). And the second time because I was unable to guarantee the level of confidentiality I would have wanted to guarantee for the project (it was a government related translation & I had to share the information and even though it was "alright", I didn't feel comfortable with it). ...


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ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 00:47
English to French
+ ...
Of course there are exceptions Aug 15, 2008

Kevin Lossner wrote:

In fact it was about a virtual online "airport" portal intended to encourage underage smoking. No kidding. The jerk who wrote the text even bragged about circumventing the strict laws against tobacco advertising in the US.

Because it was obviously an honest mistake on my client's part, I bit the bullet and did the translation.


Of course, there are times when it is hard to know in advance, especially with documents that are long and you don't have time to read all of it before agreeing to the translation job. That is why I often use text summarizers. In my case, it is not out of principle, but rather to make sure I have what it takes to translate the text (once I had to translate technical documentation and didn't expect there was going to be an entire chapter on math - and I ain't a math expert). It is not a foolproof method, but it helps you to spot things you call 'truly evil' early.

However, the questions Heather asks in her initial post suggest that she did not ask about the subject matter or ask to see the text before committing to the translation. I guess this will be a learning experience for her. I remember I had mine a while back...

But I do agree - there are cases where it is nearly impossible to foresee such problems.


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xxxJPW  Identity Verified
Local time: 05:47
Spanish to English
+ ...
Money money money... Aug 15, 2008

...makes the world turn round.

Should you have requested to see a sample of the text before agreeing in the first place?

Yes, definitely.

Should you apologize to the outsourcer that you can't translate the text for personal reasons?

Yes, definitely. After you've had a look. Before you agree.

Should you swallow your principles and just do the work?

Yes, full stop. They're just words. Woody Allen (and I think we should listen to him) said: Take The Money And Run.

I wouldn't be that squeamish, but then everyone's different, I can accept that.

If you turn down a job you've effectively already said yes to, you're losing face. But I suppose the get-out clause is moral objection. There's one in my t&cs, but I never ever expect to invoke it...

I am a 110% with you on refusing to take on work that goes against your convictions/beliefs/principles/etc. I could translate filthy XXX websites if I wanted to, the pay is good, the people are nice - but thanks, no thanks.


It's a dirty job (filthy, even) but someone's gotta do it. Brings another new meaning to the term 'proz'...


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Tjasa Kuerpick  Identity Verified
Slovenia
Local time: 06:47
Member (2006)
Slovenian to German
+ ...
Values moral ethics in translation - personal decision or that of the community? Aug 15, 2008

I am sure each of has its own values, which help in making decisions about the question should I or should I not, is this good or bad if do it?

Wheras morals have a greater social element to values and tend to have a very broad acceptance. Thinking about morals is far more about than the decision about good and evil. You start judging others more on morals than values, so you may describe someone as immoral who does not follow the values based on established rules of certain social groups.
The problem here is that morality has a very long history in the development of human's tolerancy. It is from that point of view a time relating issue and becomes unstable as soon as people start showing more tolerance. This feature is clearly shown in the history of the human nature.

What is regarded as wrong or bad today, might change in the course of time, and become good tomorrow - same in reverse direction - because it is a motivation based on social ideas about right and wrong. Today nobody would ever loose a word about the fact that women are wearing trousers, wheras not long ago this was regarded as quite unfamiliar and unpolite. The same happened after the worldwide anti-smoking campaign that changed the minds of many people regarding people who smoke. Honestly, did you think about it before the governments put their red exclamation mark on it?

So, from this point of view you may decide to go with the flow and respect the morals of the community or group of people of your decision or you go your own personal way, and decide for yourself what to do in a particular situation regardless of the view-points of the society.

Usually people decide to go with the flow, as it makes life much easier, which however might not always be the right way. But that’s the way of life. As from my observations in the past, I got the impression that people mostly rely on the rules or viwpoints of the community rather that beeing critical about things that happen around them. Some rare ones however, who did not, later changed the course of life of many people.

It is certainly that we may find in each society extreme situations and actions that cannot be accepted under any circumstances. I am speaking of real evil - evil, that although much effort is invested to defeat it all over the world, is still commited. Child abduction, physical child abuse, genocide, sexual abuse, cruelty to humans because of certain religions, political beliefs are just some examples of it.

Regarding ethics it s more a question of professional ethics, as a certain group that established the rules and were adopted by their members, will regard anyone who does not follow their rules as unethical (see example regarding translation published in the New York Times:
http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9401E1DE133FF932A25751C0A9619C8B63 . As the author accused him of being unethical, it is equivalent of calling him as unprofessional.

Let us take an example: you are physician, specialized in gynaecology and make some additional money with translating texts related to your specialized field. One day you receive in your mailbox a letter of someone who requests a translatation. After having read the source text you see that it would be a rather dirty job. Would you do the job? I bet you won't, as the text is against your good principles - you will so act ethically (ethics of principled conviction). On the other point of view, you would consider the consequences of your decision and action and think about if you are doing any harm, if you translate this stuff. (Ethics of responsibility). At the end of this considerations you get a clear line of what is acceptable and what not in other words a clear guidline for your everyday work.
But, please keep in mind that too much morality is not easy to handle with when you come in touch with other people.

Well this gives me a wonderful idea of establishing professional ethics on Proz, which should be a good and smart guideline for us translators.


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