3 Tricks for Dodging Translation Blacklists

greedy business person

Last week, I somehow found myself talking to someone who is thinking of applying to a translation agency that shows up on several local and international blacklists. Much to my dismay, this person’s response to my blacklist warning was a defiant question: “Who doesn’t show up on those?” As though being blacklisted were no big deal and even, to some extent, an inevitable part of the translation business.

But, is that really so? Are all agencies blacklisted or just the bottom feeders and late payers? It seems to me that a lot of businesses actually manage to successfully dodge blacklists. So the question is what their trick is. How do you outsource work, make a profit, and still avoid being publicly accused of greed and wrongdoing in the T&I community? The key is combining three strategies:

1) Paying Fair Rates

When translators discuss unfair rates online, their reasoning is often met with not-so-solid and sometimes biased or insufficiently founded quasi “capitalist” notions of business as usual or laissez-faire. I am a strong supporter of capitalism, but supporting a capitalist, free market economy in no way implies supporting exploitation or unfairness as necessary preconditions for the system to work. The only reason to exploit people is greed. There is nothing in economic theory to support exploitation. So how do you know when you’ve crossed the line? It’s not that hard. Are your translators making a living wage? If so, there may be room for improvement, but at least you’re probably not a greedy crow. If not, then lines are most likely being crossed and you might have some serious restructuring to do.

2) Paying on Time

You know that nasty little trick where you don’t pay your translator until the client pays you? Well, one of the many problems with that is its unlawfulness. Your contract with your translator is independent of your contract with your client. When you sign an agreement with a translator (X price for X words), you are legally binding yourself to meet your end of the deal if the translator meets his or her end as well. End of story. If your client didn’t pay you, that’s too bad. But it is not the translator’s problem! Of course there may be exceptions, but they are rare and not part of our standard practices.

3) Treating People with Respect

This should be a given; but it never ceases to amaze me how many low or late payers end up on blacklists for how they treated translators rather than for how little or late they pay. Even if you’re an extreme utilitarian who does not believe in kantian ethics or any notion of human beings as inherently deserving dignity and respect, you still catch more flies with honey. If you’re not going to treat people with respect simply because they are people, then at least treat them with respect to maximize your own utility. It is ultimately in your best interest to keep your translators happy.

3 thoughts on “3 Tricks for Dodging Translation Blacklists

  1. Charles says:

    Excellent post, and yes, yes, yes to your second point in particular. I’m amazed so many people accept this practice as the natural way to do things. Freelancers should not provide their work on a zero-interest lease, nor should their payment be held as insurance against eventual contingencies on the client’s part — which is exactly what it looks like.


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