Posts Tagged ‘No Peanuts! Movement’

The three wise monekysLast week, the No Peanuts! Movement, which this blog proudly endorses, was featured in an article on the Translation Guy Blog. I used to like that blog, so I was pretty excited when I saw the title of the post on my iGoogle page, and thought the awareness was spreading.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. What I found was instead a particularly weak effort to dismiss the whole movement as little more than a cartel of greedy and unrealistic translators with backwards tendencies. I left a comment, politely addressing what I thought were rather poor arguments, but it was never approved. The same, I think, happened with Wendell Ricketts’ comment, and possibly more. Only one comment appears on the page, conveniently praising the “great article.”

Being Wendell Ricketts the creator of the No Peanuts! blog, though, it would have been a show of basic decency to let him express his view with a reply. That’s what blogging should be about, right? Interaction, the free flow of ideas, the confrontation of different arguments. Most importantly, if someone talks about you, you’d like to have a chance to reply, wouldn’t you? That was not the case. Ah, but wait, Ken Clark, the self-styled Translation Guy, is first and foremost the owner of a huge translation agency. It’s all starting to make sense, now.

Given that my comment was not approved and that I had something to say about this, all I can do is turn it into a post. I’d simply like to analyse a few passages. Take this one, a bad attempt at being patronising:

Ready to throw down your chains, translation workers? Here’s how to do it: Hold the line on your pricing, and tell your clients why. Take back control from the mega-agencies, and don’t bid cheap. Boycott the bad guys, and tell others about them. Don’t be reduced to servitude, and keep the scabs from scabbing. And don’t panic.

Whoops. Too late on that last one, because the whole site just screams “panic” to me. Sorry, guys. […] The great wheel of commerce crushes all in its path.

Panic? What panic? No Peanuts! for Translators simply promotes better practices, which are beneficial for translators and their clients. On the other hand, it exposes practices that are self-destructive for our industry. No panic at all, to the point that we are willing to turn down offensive offers. In the parlance of youth, we’re chilled as, man. Of course, as we said, the guy runs an agency, so in a way it makes sense that he completely ignores the main point – agencies are middle men and cutting them out can often be beneficial for both the translator and the client. Have a read at  this excellent article by Wendell Ricketts to find out precisely why and how. Plus, dismissing a whole movement based on solid arguments with a vague and patronising reference to “panic” is not really that credible. The Translation Guy can do better.

Well, sort of. To his credit, he does give us the moral high ground, but that’s about it:

the “No Peanuts!” guys have justice and human dignity on their side.   Meanwhile, someone else is banging away on the iron triangle of service, beating out “better, faster, cheaper; better, faster, cheaper.”

This “better, faster, cheaper” mantra, of course, is purely a sales pitch. It’s pretty much a fact of life that it’s either better or faster and cheaper. And not just in translation, but think clothing, food, cars, medical treatments, and pretty much anything that can be bought. And it’s here that we get to the bottom line. The No Peanuts! movement is about quality. Quality of service, and quality of life. The Translation Guy never mentions quality in his post, which is puzzling, and at the same time sort of proves my point about agencies. Then, later on in the article, he tops himself:

watch out for that scab translator #260 under that rock over there because she is figuring out how to climb aboard the great commercial juggernaut on terms that pay for her, if not for you. And if she passes on that one, translator #22666 on PRoZ will take it, and the translation provided, for good or ill, might just fit the bill.

I find the “if you turn it down someone else is going to do it” argument trite and, most importantly, oblivious of concepts like professionalism and quality. It would be like saying to a gourmet burger restaurant “Hey, man, you shouldn’t sell your fancy burgers for $12, ’cause McDonald’s sells burgers for $3 and you’re going to go bankrupt if you don’t lower your prices too. It’s the great wheel of commerce!” Guess what? There are people who care about quality. To use a different metaphor, some people will buy an Armani suit over a cheaper one because despite the fact that the main goal is not to walk around naked, the Armani will just feel and look better and last longer. And, if you wear it to work, it makes you look better, which is good for business. I don’t see why the same shouldn’t apply to our sector.

Then the Guy shares a “sad little story”,

in an empty gesture of solidarity with all you translators who want to make as much money as you used to

Come again? What’s this now, about translators wanting to “make as much money as they used to do” (which was never a lot, really)? Is it really about that, or is it rather about big agencies getting worried that they might not make as much as they do now once their clients work out that they are better off hiring a professional translator directly?

UPDATE (27/07/2010): comments to the post on the Translation Guy’s blog are finally up. Ken Clark apologised for the technical difficulties.

Photo: detail from The Three Wise Monkeys – George Street, by Charlie Brewer

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As you know, this blog proudly endorses the No Peanuts! for Translators movement. We often complain – with good reason – about being exploited by translation agencies, clients, and websites that claim to provide a great service to translators while they actually further and streamline the exploitation process. Sadly, though, the worst problem, the one which is by far the most damaging to our profession, comes from fellow translators. Some of them might just work for peanuts. Others simply have no sense of ethics whatsoever. I’d like to share some excerpts from my correspondence with M.N. (how kind am I?) of the S.L.C. (again…)

Said Mr. N. needed a very short text (342 words) translated from English to Italian, and subcontracted the job to me.

On the 13th of October, I sent my translation, and my invoice, for AUD 85.50. The guy didn’t even bother replying with a ‘thank you’, or anything.

On the 4th of November, I still had not received the money, so I wrote an e-mail to him:

Hi M,

I was wondering when you were expecting to be able to make payment for the XXXXXXX translation. Cheers


He replied with

We expect payment next week. I can assure you we do not run away.

Fair enough. Except that, on the 7th of January, I realised that the guy still hadn’t paid me. So, remembering the Code of Ethics requiring me to be polite and courteous and diplomatic, I wrote another e-mail:

Hello M,

I just noticed that I still haven’t received payment for the XXXXXXX translation. It’s been three months since I did it and two since your reassurance attached below. Please make payment as soon as possible.



He got back to me with a real professional message:

Was not paid as yet. Closed for Xmas. I understand next week

Then, miracle of miracles, on the 19th of January, I noticed the deposit on my account, but it was only $68.00. I took a deep breath, counted to ten, repeated to myself that  “translators shall try to resolve any disputes with their colleagues in a cooperative, constructive, and professional manner”, then composed another message:

Hello M,

I finally received your payment for the XXXXXXX translation. The only problem is that I sent you an invoice for $85.50 (please find it attached again) and I only received $68 on my account. Please deposit another $17.50.


Giuseppe M Brescia

Now, it was 17 dollars. It’s half what I charge for a birth certificate. I don’t care. But it’s the principle that makes my blood boil. Especially when my server informed me that M.N. had read the e-mail, but did not reply. I half forgot about it; luckily, I have a life. But then, on the 10th of February, I thought about him again, and sent him yet another e-mail:


Twenty days ago – more than three months after I completed a job for you – I sent you this message:


I have not even received an acknowledgment of receipt. You do realise that even if it is only $17.50, it’s over 20% of
my fee. We did not mention such a discount, I am afraid.

It would be appreciated if you could respect the ethics of our profession and pay me the agreed fee.


Giuseppe Manuel Brescia

To which, finally, he replied with this:

Every now and then we have to compete and reduce prices. This was one of those occassions [sic]. Hope you understand.

Too much, dear M.N. Too much.I really struggled, but I managed to come off polite, although please don’t ask me to be nice.

No, M. I do not understand. And I do not appreciate being taken advantage of.

We agreed on a fee. I invoiced you according to that fee. You have to pay me for what I invoiced you. Then, of course, you are totally free to give the translation to the client at the cost you want. You can give it to them for free, but you still have to pay me. So, I am sorry to say your excuse is irrelevant.

Let me refresh the sequence of events:

You never mentioned this supposed reduction of price to me. You kept pushing the date of the payment and took three months to pay me, during which you didn’t hint to this supposed reduction of price. Finally, after three months, you paid me 20% less than what I was due and even then didn’t bother informing me of that, or of the reason why. Then I sent you two e-mails and twenty days later you still hadn’t made payment, replied to said e-mails, or even acknowledged their receipt. Then I finally send you this last e-mail and you come up with this nonsense.

I am asking you one last time, as it is common courtesy to resolve disputes between us, and in a civilised manner:

do you intend to honour your commitment and pay me my full fee or not?

Should you not answer this, I will consider it a negative answer and take the appropriate steps to defend my interest and the integrity and dignity of our profession.


Giuseppe M Brescia

Now, obviously, he did not reply, and neither did I take any step, because it’s not worth the time and effort to get $17.50. And this is exactly the reason why this guy acts like he acts. I don’t think all this needs many comments. People like M.N. are, in my opinion, even worse than dishonest agencies and clients, because this guy is a NAATI-accredited professional translator, like me. He is exploiting and disrespecting a colleague (although I’m probably neither the first nor the last), all for the hefty sum of AUD17.50. I know that likening him to a kapo sounds a tad harsh, but personally I bet that this is the kind of person who would have become one. Luckily, in this day, age and place, it’s just about peanuts.

Yet, how can we expect people to respect translators if they don’t even respect each other and, therefore, themselves?

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As from yesterday, this blog proudly endorses the No Peanuts! for Translators movement, launched by Wendell Ricketts and Stefano Kalifire. The aim of the movement? Well, stop working for peanuts, basically.

I am excited to join forces with fellow translators who want to see the profession recognised as it should be, and understand that “If every single one of us insisted on receiving a living wage, a living wage is what we would receive”.

Please read the No Peanuts! Statement of Principles on the blog. For the non-translators who – understandably – can’t be bothered reading it all, I’ll try to sum up the basic ideas of this Statement.

First of all, we, as translators, should refuse wages that do not allow us  to live decently. We should insist on receiving a “living wage” and educate agencies, publishers and other clients by explaining them that quality translations are worth more, should cost more, and, above all, are a good investment for them. We should stress that, as in any other field, skills and experience count and it’s smart for them to pay a bit more for a better-quality translation. Low rates to the translator almost always mean that the client is getting low quality translations, so the situation is counterproductive for both the translator and the client. Many beginners set very low rates to “get in” or because of “the market”, but, as the Statement aptly puts it,

If you’re not participating in the No Peanuts! Movement, you are participating in its counterpart: Peanuts for Everyone!

Also, translators should take back control of their role in the client/service provider relationship, which has degenerated to the point that many clients assume they have the right to dictate rates to translators. To give you an idea of how bad it gets, I’ll use an excellent metaphor that I read a while back on Il Segno di Caino:

You sit down to eat in a restaurant. After consulting the menu, you call the owner over to your table. “This steak is overpriced,” you say. “I’ll pay half, and I want you to throw in a bottle of wine with that. If you don’t get everything on my table within ten minutes, though, the deal’s off.” And here again, the restaurateur has no recourse: he must accept or lose the chance to earn even 50% of what the meal actually costs.

Funny, ain’t it? One would think this is a paradox, a dramatic exaggeration. But it’s not, really. That’s how it works for many people. No more of that. No more peanuts for translators! Or at least for me, although in my stubborn pride, I can happily say that I never really accepted any.

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