November 16, 2005

Service with a Smile

The Telegraph, 16.11.2005

In “Slave, scab, pipe dream” (Nov 11), Ashok Mitra compares call centre workers to prisoners and slaves. But in doing so, Mitra seems to have forgotten that the former take up the job on their own accord, unlike the latter. The high attrition rate in the business process outsourcing industry bears testimony to workers making conscious choices about their careers.

One of Mitra’s contentions is that outsourcing takes place because importing migrant workers could result in their unionization. This is a preposterous argument as countries with whom India has the closest links in terms of outsourcing are among the least unionized in the world — the United States of America and the United Kingdom. Mitra’s fear that the high unemployment rate in continental Europe might ring the death knell for India’s BPO boom is also unfounded. The reason why many European companies are doing well is because they have outsourced some of their operations to India. Sooner or later, other countries in the continent would follow suit, and Indian BPO companies would continue to prosper. Where else would these companies find thousands of computer-savvy, English-speaking workers ready at hand?

The success story of the BPO industry in India can be attributed to the fact that the government has not meddled in this sector. And if the revenues generated by the software industry is anything to go by, it seems unlikely that the government will do anything to hinder its growth. The real problem, however, with the BPO companies is the lack of awareness regarding the intellectual property rights of products and services outsourced. The companies simply develop an application for the end-user who takes over the copyright. If adequate attention is not paid to the IPR issue, Indian companies will continue to pay for purchasing applications that they develop, just as they are doing it now.

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