In 2012 a working group of distinguished colleagues updated the AUSIT Code of Ethics, which regulates the professional conduct of AUSIT members, both translators and interpreters, and on which all NAATI candidates are tested. The code, written in the early 1990s, and officially endorsed at the 1995 General Meeting, has been an essential tool for professionals, but so much has changed in the space of less than twenty years, that an update was maybe even overdue.
A few months ago I attended a panel discussion about the new code at the latest AUSIT Biennial Conference in Sydney, presented by Uldis Ozolins, where we had the chance to examine and discuss the changes to the code. Christian Schmidt was also enlightening in talking about this precious contribution to the process during the National AGM at the end of the conference.
Let’s have a quick look at the new code. In terms of structure, the major change is that to Section 6 of the old code, formerly titled “Employment,” and now basically split into two sections, called “6. Clarity of Role Boundaries” and “7. Maintaining Professional Relationships.” The two sections, which, put together, are longer than the old one they replaced, offer a much clearer understanding of the themes they deal with, which will help practitioners and clients alike. Furthermore, this is the only instance where the code got more verbose in the re-writing process. Overall, each section has been greatly simplified and shortened: Section 1 (Professional Conduct) went from 15 points subdivided into five sub-sections to just six points. Section 5, (Accuracy) went from 4 sub-sections, and a total of 11 points, to 4 simple points. All the other sections are considerably shorter and will appear much clearer and to the point to people who are not part of the industry. This is a great achievement: the much more concise format of the new code, and the clearer language used make it much easier for clients to get an idea of what they can and should expect by a T&I service provider.
This is of pivotal importance to ensure a smooth and mutually beneficial relationship between the client and the T&I service provider. For example, I was asked several times to change or explain some section of an official document. Sometimes a client might even ask me to add information which is nowhere to be found, or to change a date on a document on the basis that they are going to apply for a new copy which they expect to be issued on that date.
I have also encountered a few clients who sounded quite concerned about what I might do with their personal details and any information acquired while carrying out a job. Clearly, a Code of Ethics with a detailed section about Confidentiality, is an excellent way to show clients what they can and should expect from us as professionals.
Of course, explaining what the boundaries of my role are is easy and has always proven effective. Furthermore, it positively affects the client’s perception of the translator as a highly ethical professional, satisfying their need to know that they are dealing with a professional who is required to maintain an extremely high level of integrity. Still, I have noticed that some clients had minor troubles with the wording of the Code, and I was very happy to see that the new version will be an even more effective tool to educate clients and allow them to save valuable time and resources.
Finally, as an Italian, I can’t help but comparing the Australian case with that of my home country – AUSIT and its Code of Ethics, as well as body like NAATI, might still be far from perfect, but they are at the forefront, globally, in terms of protecting, advancing and regulating our profession. Italy still lacks – and desperately needs – an accreditation body comparable to NAATI and a professional body comparable to AUSIT. How my former university colleagues manage to navigate a market that does without these two pillars is beyond me. A simple, superficial analysis actually suggest that the consequences are disastrous, and directly linked with some of the major woes of translation in Italy. Unskilled translators market themselves well above their true level of competence, at amazingly low prices, and clients, big and small, assign them projects which often result in major embarrassments (like the official website of the Italian Ministry of Tourism). Setting a bar, like NAATI accreditation, and having a professional body that requires its members to abide to a code of conduct would doubtlessly sweep away unskilled and untrained people claiming to be translators, leaving the market to professionals. Without unskilled people driving prices down, translators could finally be able to compete on quality of service, rather than sacrificing it to compete on prices with unskilled competitors. This shift, by itself, is a major ethical imperative, and figures like the ones we read in the latest AUSIT report, with an average fee of $25 per 100 words, show that a high emphasis on ethics and conduct is not just fluff. On the contrary, it even affects, in a not-so-indirect way, the livelihood of professionals and therefore the quality of the services we provide.