Vol. 2, Issue 15, April 13, 2004
India Begs US To Stop Outsourcing Customer Service Jobs
India has publicly requested that the United States halt the increasing practice of outsourcing call centers handling customer support. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's mention of what he called the "unexpected controversies" generated over the issue came days after remarks critical of India by U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick over the outsourcing issue.
"Outsourcing makes businesses more competitive, and we thought the influx of high-paying jobs was a good idea at first," Vajpayee said. "But the cost to our society has been enormous."
Outsourcing is the relocation of American jobs to lower-paid workers in different parts of the world. Seeking to cut costs, companies from the United States and other Western countries have hired about 170,000 workers in India over the past few years for jobs such as telemarketing, and customer-support services. The figure is expected to reach 1.1 million by 2008, industry groups say.
India is a popular location for outsourcing call centers because it has a skilled workforce fluent in English. Many companies, in fact, provide extensive coaching to their Indian employees in order to create the illusion that the help centers are located in the United States.
"They help them acquire regional American accents and cultural references," said Mandy Tomarski, professor of economics at the University of Iowa. "Many Indian workers take pride in emulating these accents and personas, even going to far as to study local details and cultural references so they can, for example, pretend they are from Minnesota."
The trend has gone too far, according to Vajpayee.
"These call-center and customer support workers have trained so hard to act American on the telephone that they have essentially become Americans," lamented the prime minister. "It is as if we suddenly had a huge influx of American immigrants. The cultural ramifications have been overwhelming."
The Americanized workers have been demanding reduced schedules which are closer to the typical forty-hour American work week. They have also fueled a sharp rise in fast-food outlets and litigation.
"They are rude, they are suing everyone in sight, they are watching the Fox network via satellite TV," Vajpayee complained. "Their health has also declined and they no longer fit into most chairs. Please, please stop doing this to us."
"The Indians have absolutely no right to complain because they don't belong to the government procurement code in the World Trade Organization," Zoellick told the Senate finance committee. "They wanted these jobs; they got them. America's a package deal, baby. Take it or leave it."