Call centers, which have been notoriously branded for many years as soul draining workplaces, can become havens of happy agents and doubly satisfied clients. Sounds too good to be true? It may seem like a pipe dream, but for a fair trade outsourcing company like Rethink Staffing, the marriage of fair trade principles with business process management has produced nothing but superior results for their clients and provided long-term benefits to their employees.
While fair trade outsourcing or FTO opens up a hitherto unknown path for companies to effect real social and economic change in the industry, it's still a new concept. Newer still are the 10 FTO Principles that will serve as guidelines for every company that's interested in becoming a fair trade outsourcing provider. In this two-part series, we'll discuss each of these principles and shine the spotlight on the ones that play the most crucial roles in changing the global outsourcing industry for the better.
1. Create sustainable job opportunities and skills development for people in the developing populations.
Low-cost labor markets aren't the only recipients of fair trade outsourcing. The emphasis on developing populations rather than simply segregating the world into first, second and third recognizes the income disparities occurring not only in countries like the Philippines, but also in certain populations in developed nations like the United States.
Part-time work and temporary positions are not ideal in a fair trade business. The purpose of becoming fair trade is to create stable jobs that pay living wages. These jobs must sustain a family of four and give employees a sense of security for their future well-being.
2. Openness, honesty and accountability in relationships between and among management and employees. Address issues freely, thoroughly and objectively.
Most, if not all, misunderstandings between management and employees stem from a lack of transparency. This results to a general mistrust of persons in authority. Agents are likely to make misinformed decisions and act on their own self-interest. To prevent this kind of behavior from poisoning a work environment, managers and agents should start communicating with each other using clear and concise language.
In addition to keeping an open mind, managers and agents alike are also advised to have an open attitude to sharing information and being candid with each other. Instead of hiding their thoughts and feelings, fearful of being criticized and disparaged publicly, employees are given the freedom t express themselves openly.
Because of this level of freedom, everyone is expected to be mature and brave enough to accept responsibility for their words and actions, and to act civilly towards each other when trying to resolve conflicts. On the part of management, they're expected to respond quickly and to be objective when dealing with their co-workers.
3. Raise the economic and social welfare of employees.
Because fair pay is a cornerstone of fair trade, it also goes without saying that improvements to the social and economic welfare of employees are par for the course. Aside from living wages, all agents receive a good compensation package that includes managed health care benefits, accident and medical insurance, vacation and sick leaves, paid leaves for agents with infants or small children, holiday pay, and an end-of-year bonus.
After working with a fair trade outsourcing company for a year, most agents are able to save up for a vehicle or a high-end gadget. A couple years more, and they're able to buy a house or invest in tangible assets such as a piece of land or stocks that pay dividends every year.
4. Secure payment of living wage and benefits at the beginning and all throughout employment.
As mentioned before, fair trade call center agents commonly receive higher-than-average pay that they can comfortably spend on living expenses and still have enough set aside for savings and for leisure. But, fair trade isn't fair at all when the job doesn't pay for the long term.
After becoming regular employees after six months, happy agents tend to remain with a company for more than a year. Good pay is usually a deciding factor for their staying power. Another, more potent, factor is the kind of work environment they have. Happy agents have a happy workplace, and that works both ways.
5. Operate in total obedience to the rule of law. Abhor child and forced labor.
Outsourcing companies rarely employ minors or those younger than 18 years old, but call centers commonly hire college students as interns or on-the-job trainees. A fair trade outsourcing company will never put the academic standing of these interns at risk. If ever they were assigned to work as part of a team, they would be given roles that would never demand overtime or extracurricular work from them.
Any company is expected to follow the rule of law, especially when it comes to workers' rights and managing labor relations. A fair trade outsourcing company will have measures in place to protect the rights and welfare of their agents in addition to indemnities and other client protection measures defined in the outsourcing contract.
For the rest of the 10 Fundamental Principles of Fair Trade Outsourcing, please watch out for the second article in this two-part series.