Welcome to Translation Ethics

This website is intended to keep track of the multiple online agencies and identify quickly what to expect from some of them, regarding quality and pay.

It serves as a useful ressource for translators looking to hear more about agencies before they sign anything or accept a contract as well as for translation buyers who are not familiar with the industry and wish to carefully select translators for their project.

It is difficult to get open information about translation agencies and this blog aims at rectifying this, by naming and shaming companies which engage in malpractice and business attitudes that are threatening to become the norm in the translation industry.

Bad practices may cover a broad range of actions, and whether buying cheap intellectual labour qualifies as one or not is for you to decide.

In the meantime, all so called "brokers", "sweatshops" or "bottom feeders" wishing to pay peanuts for intellectual work requiring several years of study will also be included in this list under the low pay criteria. Low pay includes any imaginable offer under 5 or 6 eurocent per word, which is about twice as low as recommended european prices for translation. (See associated article on "Today's translation market").

We provide here a collaborative and dynamic blacklist and any contribution from dissatisfied translators or buyers is welcome. If companies mentionned would like to add their comments, they are invited to express them by e-mail and their comments will be published on this blog.

Today's translation market (for translation buyers)

In 2013, translations are STILL HUMAN-MADE. All true professionals will tell you that despite the technological progress, no program has successfully yet managed to produce a translation one can pass for the product of human intelligence. This is simply impossible. In the meantime I'm still waiting for someone (or rather something) to prove me wrong.

This cliché is probably the result of poor communication by translators about their activity, as we fail to convey the message loud and clear. We are meticulous workers, we don't just come up with those sentences as we type them down at a record pace. We research extensively, hesitate, and choose. As humans we can indeed make decisions computers cannot make. We feel the subtleties of language and the complexity of each sentence. We try to convey metaphors and figures of speech, or double meanings and irony, subtleties programs will not even spot in the first place. Finally we read those translations to ourselves and hear their melody. We are therefore irreplacable.

Agencies find us work sometimes, and keep a substantial commission, with little or no transparency. Without information, we are often incapable of negociating with them. We fight blindly and the risk of loosing everything is generally pretty high. The problem is, agencies often forget who's doing the bulk of the work. Finder's fee is normal, as long as we can make a living. But nowadays, our share of the cake is being drastically reduced by middlemen negotiating unrealistic targets and budgets with their client, and in consequence passing the burden to us and involving us in those risky schemes.

The rise of global competition has put our profession in peril, since we are not able to survive at the rates practised today in the industry, imposed upon us by brokers exploiting intellectual work that they trade as a random commodity.

Big work platforms like ProZ have promoted that downward spiral of rates by letting anyone offer bottom rates and any so called professional apply for those "jobs". Those websites are ruining our business by acting against the profession. They are getting paid by translators to represent them but instead treat them like service providers rather than clients. They are not willing to defend our interests, refusing to set a minimum rate under which a recruiter is not allowed to advertise. Besides, there are serious doubts about the transparency of their Blueboard, a rating system which reflects in no way the reputation or good practises of agencies. I paid the membership one year and this for me was a total waste of money. I never get replies from any recruiter via Proz. The only job I found on it was when I was not yet a paying member.

According to SFT (survey in French) and the ATA, the average sustainable rate per word for a professional living in the EU is 12 Euro cents. Most job offers on ProZ target a budget comprised between 1 and 5 Eurocents. No translator in Europe can survive with those rates. Their hourly production is on average 250 words, so their rate per hour would be 5 euros, before tax. A professional working legally pays at least 25 percent tax. Therefore, if he or she accepts a 2 Eurocent offer, the remaining hourly salary is 3.75 euros per hour. Exciting isn't it?
Other threats to the profession :
  • The opening, via large unselective platforms, of the market to non professionals looking for extra cash, creating unfair competition.
  • Poor selection by recruiters who only seek profit, hiring non native "translators" desperate for money. A translator normally translates into their native language, and has one or two, three max language pairs. More than that would be highly suspicious.
  • CV and identity theft, by agencies or scammers. They offer a job to the translators and ask for their CV, which they forward to the client to win the contract. Then, they hire someone much cheaper (and often incompetent).
  • Non payers, late payments (a lot of "reputable" agencies pay 45 to 60 days after reception of the translation), ignoring completely the following directive : DIRECTIVE 2011/7/EU OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL
    of 16 February 2011, according to which the minimum interest in case of late payments (> 30 days) is EUR 40.00."
It is only with the cooperation of translation buyers willing to ackowledge the importance and value of quality translations, and ready to pay them for what they're worth that this beautiful profession can be salvaged. 
The translation market, despite its apparent health and growth, is actually collapsing, while with it, language, intellectual rigor, and overall quality of communication are endangered.