Home opinion-and-analysis Open Sauce Offshoring: a cancer that will devour us

Offshoring: a cancer that will devour us

One Australian dollar is equivalent to something like 55 Indian rupees. One American dollar is in the same range. The British pound, the euro, they all mean big amounts in India and that's what drives outsourcing.

The primary reason for outsourcing is to save on costs in the short term. In the long term, the damage done both in the countries shipping out jobs and those in which they are performed, far outweighs the tawdry profits that accrue to global corporations.

For company boffins, every employment contract has certain clauses tied to the share price. Move it up by X units and you get Y as a bonus. This short-term approach means that a company chief executive will do everything but sell his/her body on Kings Cross to get the share price up.

Given this, human misery doesn't really count. Most CEOs avoid even knowing the complete details of the horror they are wreaking; the only question they pose to the fixer is "how much will we save? how much can we make?" This also enables the chief ex to feign surprise and horror when something goes wrong.

The country which receives the offshoring contract is hit in various ways. In India, for example, a vast amount of land has been eaten up by the construction of huge call centres, spreading the urban fringe further and further. This, in turn, results in less land being available for cultivation, forcing farmers - still the backbone of the Indian economy - off their lands. The rate of suicide among Indian farmers has ballooned over the last two decades - but we're making profits so why should we bother?

The party is occasionally spoiled by incidents like the one in Bangladesh where a thousand or so died because the offshorers had cut corners and literally got rid of every safety net. Big firms like Target and Woolworths which buy garments from these offshorers bury their heads at times like this and wait for the storm of bad publicity to blow over. And nobody really has the energy to chase down big firms the way the intrepid Nick Davis of The Guardian hunted down News Corporation in the UK. That kind of persistence has gone with the wind.

And blow over it does. No customer in any Western country is going to refuse to buy a sweater made in Bangladesh just because a thousand or so Third World people croaked. The companies that get their goods made in Dhaka know this. They use the usual weasel words, show the proper expressions of bogus sympathy and life goes on. The politicians are on the take, so they can't do anything either. Poor souls, they need the money to maintain a decent lifestyle.

One of the downsides to offshoring is the drop in the number of graduates in particular job-oriented subjects. IT, for example, is known as a dead-end. If you are going to study for five years only to find your job shipped abroad so that your employer can save on costs and get a bigger bonus, then not too many would venture into that line of study. As time goes on, this means there are no qualified people to do particular jobs; an intellectual vacuum is created. A nation slowly becomes dumb and dumber.

There are numerous Indians I have met who have worked in call centres for short periods and told me how they quit because they find it incredibly demeaning to be asked to fake a foreign accent and pretend to be interested in subjects about which they do not give a flying f***. Some say they have developed psychological problems as a result, literally cases of dual identity. But, hey, the bottomline is looking good at company X in Manhattan - ask these party-poopers to just piss off.

There is a curious way in which the system works. Every big tech company in the world goes hunting in India to grab the best and brightest and spirit them away. Only the drudge workers, the cargo cult programmers, are left behind. This invariably means that the work done there is of poor quality, leading to sentiments bordering on racism being ventilated in the media and elsewhere. Having run a branch of an Indian company in Melbourne, I know first-hand how difficult it is to translate Australian requirements so that Indian programmers can deliver what is needed. Tastes differ, cultures too and quite often the profit made is minuscule and not worth the trouble.

Like the Dickensian character Oliver Twist, giant Western corporations always want more. The collateral damage doesn't matter. They have their cheerleaders, people like the New York Times resident idiot Thomas Friedman, to be the back-up choir, to support the status quo and the political and business elite who calculate things in dollars and lack sense.

There are some grim statistics that should make people wake up - for example, 16 percent of the US population now lives below the official poverty line. But given that the bosses of big corporations are inured to everything but profit, it would be safe to say that they understand only the cost of everything and the value of nothing.


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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.