Monday, April 21, 2003

Outsourcing Work to Foreign Countries

Asia Times publishes an unintentionally amusing article about the growth of call centers in the Philippines.

Tuan Nguyen, a Vietnamese-American, manages the Manila office of I-TouchPoint, an Indian call-center firm. Nguyen's office fields a share of directory-assistance calls coming from New York. One consideration in the selection of his operators is their ability to speak a neutral-sounding American English. Indeed, for I-TouchPoint and other call-center firms, a key consideration in the choice of the Philippines as a base of operations is the ability of Filipinos to project "Americanness".

Imagine how long a company would survive inside the US if their HR manager admitted in an interview with the Times that "ability to speak a neutral sounding American English" served as a primary criterion of employment. A wide variety of black, Hispanic, and Asian-American legal foundations would rapidly encourage the EEOC to jump down said company's throat, due to the "disparate impact" this kind of accent criterion has on immigrants and blacks.

More amusingly, if the manager in charge of such practices were found to be a "person of color," as is Mr. Nguyen, he would quickly be derided as a sellout and a Wicked Whitey Wannabe.

As the article fails to note, the cost of complying with "anti-discrimination" regulations is no small reason why so many businesses are moving their operations overseas in the first place, though of course, the wage differential is a larger one.

Idea for a test case: find a US-born kid who speaks a foreign language, possibly his ancestral one, with a noticeable American accent, have him apply for a job in the US, such as in sales, which requires fluency in that language, and unleash your lawyers when he gets rejected. Promising career opportunity for ABCs!

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