A No Peanuts! Statement of Principles

Read the No Peanuts! Statement of Principles in Estonian, Spanish, Turkish, Romanian, or Russian.

The No Peanuts! Movement supports professional translators and interpreters in demanding and receiving a fair and honest living from their work.

No Peanuts! means refusing to believe that translators are powerless. No Peanuts! means rejecting the notion that translators must kowtow to so-called “market demand” as if we had no ability to create our own markets. No Peanuts! means insisting that we need not live in fear or accept exploitation in exchange for the right to earn a living in our chosen field.

Here’s how you can participate in the No Peanuts! Movement!

1. Resist lowering your rates. No Peanuts! starts and ends with this fundamental principle. It may seem naive to say so, but the truth is actually quite simple: If every single one of us insisted on being paid fairly and decently for our work, fair and decent pay is what we would receive. Rates are falling because translators have let them fall. We created this problem, and we can stop it.

2. Tell clients why. It’s not enough to refuse or ignore low-rate offers. No Peanuts! works only if we take specific action to educate agencies, publishers, and other clients. Tell them exactly why you refuse to work for small change. Explain the rates and conditions that would be appropriate for the job in question. Be angry, be polite, be funny: How you say it doesn’t matter, but it matters immensely that you say it!

3. Stop operating in panic mode. The translation market is in no danger of collapsing. Clients will continue to need translation services. If we continue to show them the difference between professional translation and cut-rate, chop-shop translation, they will understand that skill and experience are worth more. The fact is that clients can pay fairly and decently. They don’t because they believe the same product is available for less. It isn’t, but it’s our job to let them know why.

4. Recognize that you are in the same boat as all your colleagues in your language combination. Setting rock-bottom rates or lowering them because of “the market” or in response to pressure from clients directly injures other translation professionals. If you’re not participating in the No Peanuts! Movement, you are participating in its counterpart: Peanuts for Everyone!

5. Take back control of your role in the client/service provider relationship. For years, online clearinghouses like ProZ, TranslatorsCafé, GoTranslators, and others, along with mega-agencies like TransPerfect and Lionbridge, have helped turn the client-provider relationship inside out. Many clients have followed their lead and now assume they have the right to dictate rates to translators. They are mistaken.

6. Boycott online translation brokers & agencies that abuse and exploit translators and interpreters and demonstrate a lack of respect for the translation professional. Tell them—and your colleagues—that you’re boycotting and tell them why.

7. Make use of resources such as translators’ mailing lists in your language combination, The Checklist for Freelancers, Payment Practices, the Translator Client Review list, or Il Segno di Caino: The Translator’s Hall of Shame to network with colleagues about unacceptable practices.

8. Understand that rate deflation is not solely an economic problem; it’s an ethical problem as well. First, when a translator works for peanuts, that doesn’t mean the outsourcer is billing its end client for peanuts. Usually, it’s just the opposite: the outsourcer is reaping unfair profits by “paying low” and “charging high.” Second, dirt-cheap rates to the translator almost always mean that the final user of a text (whether it’s a book, the subtitles on a TV program, or a product catalog) is getting exactly what you’d expect: low quality. Low rates, in other words, deliver a double dose of disrespect: for the translator and for the translation consumer.

9. Refuse to accept abusive working conditions. Those conditions start with rates that don’t allow you to earn a living wage, but they include unrealistic deadlines, uncompensated overtime or weekend work, insistence upon unwarranted discounts, late payments, and other practices that reduce the translator to servitude. They aren’t part of the job.

10. Communicate with your colleagues about your commitment to earning a living wage. Urge them to join the No Peanuts! Movement. Download the No Peanuts! badge and feature it on your web page or link to the No Peanuts! blog.

Above all, continue to spread the word: Professional translators and interpreters deserve to earn a living wage for their work!

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About No Peanuts! for Translators

No Peanuts! supports professional translators & interpreters in demanding & receiving a living wage for their work.
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20 Responses to A No Peanuts! Statement of Principles

  1. Cruz Losada says:

    Yeeeess!! Revolution in the jungle. I like it!!!

  2. A. Székány says:

    Hi,

    this is not the first attempt to forge a price concern for translation works, outgoing from the side of the translators.

    Speaking about language pairs and mainly for those translators, living in the same area / country: as I see it, a price concern (or to define the lowest price threshold) should require a kind of organization, within which all participants readily take the agreed on prices. Besides of quality differences, I did not see this to work, since those, having momentarily a favorable market position are not willing to go lower (don’t they?). They are not even ready to declare their prices (with some refreshing exceptions).

    In other terms, we are speaking about a kind of trades union. Trades union works well, if the participants have (very) similar situation (like the car building workers or steel mill people). Translation workers may have very different situations. … Even among themselves.

    That was my twopence.

    • Hello and welcome! We tend to agree, especially if the union or association or whatever form it takes acts locally, within the economy in question. That we know of, there are efforts (or at least discussions) toward some form of unionization underway in Québec, Italy, and Finland. It’s a safe bet that there are others going on in other contexts. The economic crisis – or the perception of an economic crisis – has hit freelancers hard in general, including translators, and that in turn seems to have led to a growing interest in organizing to increase contractual power. Translators (interpreters as well, but especially translators) very often work “telematically,” which makes the situation even more complex: a translator in any country could conceivably work with a client in any other country, so whose “union” would apply. Such issues can be resolved, though, and we are very hopeful that translators will continue to work in this direction. All best.

  3. Good morning from Japan
    Yes, I fully agree with the “no peanuts” statement.
    I would like to add, that I am personally definitely under the impression, that most/all of the commercial translator sites (Proz.com, Aquarius etc. etc., of which I have had been a paying member) promote the “peanut pricing”. Not intentionally, maybe, but because everybody from everywhere can participate. That leaves people like me, who are living in a country with exceedingly high costs of living stranded by people/translators living in cheap countries, who can afford to “work for peanuts”. They get all the jobs, probably even make a good living on it, making agencies outrageously happy and leave in the course of doing so “the others” zip (starving …).

    This may be the principle of the free market, so that nobody can complain, but for people like me it creates very unpleasant circumstances.

  4. Beside the above mentioned clearinghouses and mega-agencies, we should not forget those among our colleagues who re-outsource jobs at a fraction of the price they will get for them.

    They also have a part of responsibility in the current state of the industry and contribute to its decline.

  5. Gosh, I wanted to say “kudos”, but even with an “s” the ProZ guys completely ruined that for me…

    I think that the most important thing, besides the efforts to create unions (with all the possible problems that people have addressed above), is actually the will to educate clients, explain our process to them and allow them to understand why a good translation is worth a certain amount of money and will get them that money back.

    A network of translators in different countries, promoting this Statement of Principles, blogging about the profession, and generally promoting an understanding of what we do, with the means we have today, is probably a very new thing, at least if we consider the potential for this information to spread, compared to just 10 years ago…

    Let’s spread the word.

    GMB

  6. Pingback: No Peanuts! « Smuggled Words

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  8. Dear Colleagues,

    I live in Chile and am a member of COTICH, the Chilean Association of Translators and Interpreters, and I decided to research the net on the issue of price dumping by translation agencies. I and many other COTICH members are increasingly disturbed by the efforts of unethical agencies and companies to destroy our profession and we feel the time has come to take action.

    In the past week a company in Santiago posted a job, they were looking for a translator to work for two weeks on technical manuals. The salary they offered: 15 thousand Chilean pesos per day = less than US$30.00.

    I and other translators received an offer from a company outside Chile that contacted COTICH. They are looking for phone interpreters. They said they needed interpreters who lived in Chile and knew Chilean Spanish, had a landline and high-speed Internet connection, and they claimed to offer high rates, and if I was interested to send my resume. I did so, asking about how much they would pay, the subjects, etc. They wrote back that they paid US$5.50 per hour. I wrote back after a couple of days of thinking over what I wanted to tell them. That Chile is the most expensive country in Latin America and a professional interpreter gets paid minimum US$40/hour, but we actually charge based on a half-day or full-day rate and if we work even for an hour our rate is 4 U.F.s or US$171, and $343 for a full day — minimum.

    This initiative is definitely moving in the right direction and I am in!

    Kind regards,
    Elizabeth

  9. Pingback: No Peanuts! for me, thanks. « Translator's Tales

  10. I’ve proudly added the No Peanuts to my translation blog, which is at http://www.shunra.net/intangibles/ – yup, this is an idea whose time has come.

    Feel free to add me in under Hebrew translators proudly using peanuts for sauce, not salary.

  11. I thought it would be a good idea to come up with a few commandments to educate the targeted agencies, publishers, and clients…

    1) Thou shalt establish a relationship of mutual respect with your translator!

    2) Thou shalt therefore hire a professional translator directly whenever possible! If not,

    3) Thou shalt be diffident towards agencies who offer low-cost translations from any given language into any other given language, and in any given specialist field!

    4) Thou shalt entrust your translation to a native speaker of the target language!

    5) Thou shalt ensure that this native speaker is a specialist in the relevant subject! But,

    6) Thou shalt not bother him or her with unpaid “test” translations!

    7) Thou shalt recognize that translators deserve to earn an adequate living!

    8) Thou shalt not bargain as it is not your role to establish a price!

    9) Thou shalt pay timely and cover all expenses arising from money transfer!

    10) Thou shalt be aware that a bad translation is no good promotion for your company!

    Kindest regards, a Merry Christmas and a Happy and Succesful New Year!

  12. Luis Mondragón says:

    Great initiative. I’m of the idea that web-based organization tools are slowly empowering professional communities such as translators’. Education is the answer. Let’s educate our clients, and let’s fight against ignorance about our profession.

  13. Elena Woontner says:

    I happened to come across your site at a moment when I was seriously thinking of quitting this business after 30 years, given what this line of work has become. I used to love my job, and I have been getting very close to hating it lately. Your site is a breath of fresh air. Thanks.

  14. Penelope Maclachlan says:

    Thank you for telling me about the feisty No peanuts movement. I’m proud to join you.

  15. Pingback: Ei pelkkiä pähkinöitä: kääntäjien palkkioista ja solidaarisuudesta | Kielen päällä

  16. Steve Rawcliffe says:

    Great initiative!

    Part of the solution is, of course, to work for end-users rather than agencies. Finding end-user clients is much more difficult than signing up with an agency, but it’s so much more rewarding, both financially and in terms of cooperation.

    When I get enquiries from agencies, I almost always say “Yep I’m interested, but I’m probably too expensive for you ‘cos I usually work for end-users.” My rate is EUR 0.20, which is twice what many agencies want to pay, but about 30% of the time they do go for it … illegitimi non carborundum!

  17. I am of the Alexander Pope school of thought that whatever exists in the world has some justification or reason for being, and the current pricing situation in the translation industry is no different. I don’t think the fundamental problem is due to translators acting craven and submitting to ridiculous prices. Rather, it occurs to me that we are in this situation because a lot of end clients of translation agencies must not care about quality.

    I think a lot of translations are never read and act as placeholders to satisfy some corporate policy. Maybe it is important that the text mirror the form of the original in certain very rudimentary ways, and that parts might be read, make sense and be cited (such as the introduction or conclusion of a report). But maybe in these cases no one intends to read an entire translation from end to end, so exacting quality is not needed, and thus the cheapest slap-dash job will do.

    There are many situations in the real world where prices just can’t keep falling because of real costs. As much as I would like to buy a $500 new car, such a thing is impossible. The prices of materials and labor are such that I have to pay full price if I want a car that can actually do car-like things. However, if we lived in a world in which many people only needed to place an object in their driveways that only outwardly resembled a vehicle, then companies would surely sell $500 shells to satisfy that itch in the same way that translation agencies sell translations for pennies per word.

    • Kenny: As usual, we think it’s more complicated than any either/or analysis can contain. We have always argued that not every translation needs to be of the highest, most literary quality — for precisely the reasons you mention. If that were the only issue, however, then the industry would have established a tier system and would charge (and pay) accordingly.

      But that isn’t what happens. No agency says “The price is X for a mediocre translation, but 2X for a really good one.” No translator advertises himself as a “low-quality translator ideal for slap-dash jobs.” I’ve certainly NEVER had an agency tell me, “what we can offer is based upon the quality of the translation” or even, “we’re offering a low rate, but only expect a very approximate translation.” The situation might better if that were the case.

      Instead, everyone is competing at the same assumed level of quality, and agencies can charge high prices to end clients (and undercut translators) virtually without regard to the quality of the translation. When you factor in the reality that most clients (and many agencies) are in no position to judge whether a translation into a foreign language is or isn’t adequate, you see the true mess of it.

      I presume that there are occasionally complaints and occasionally translations that must be re-done, but the great reeking mass of them pass without anybody noticing whether the work is good, bad, or middling. So my take would be this: It isn’t that agencies don’t care about quality, it’s that they and their end clients are ill equipped to evaluate quality or to understand what makes one translation good and another one embarrassing. That makes the price point the most convenient and universally understandable measure of the “worth” of a translation.

No Peanuts! doesn't pretend to be a representative democracy. We don't publish comments that denigrate our movement, attack our writers, or show disrespect for translators. All comments must be signed with first/last name and include a verifiable email address.

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