National and Global Development
Our respondents are conscious of their contribution to the economic welfare of the nation with the huge tax revenues generated from BPOs. Their presence reinforces and maintains the Philippines’ reputation as the “Number 1 BPO Hub in the World.”
The outsourcing of jobs from the United States and other first world countries opens an opportunity for developing countries like India and the Philippines to advance their economies. Wisegeek.com, a call center online journal, posits that politically this practice has an overall positive effect on the US economy since it saves money for companies, opens up opportunities for greater entrepreneurship and leads to more US Americans holding higher level jobs. Aside from giving jobs and helping improve the economic conditions of the less developed countries, it also promises better political relationships.
Some critics though think that this practice is not promising for the countries in the North. Consequently, House Bill 3596 or the US Call Center Worker and Consumer Protection Act pushed for penalizing companies that outsource jobs outside the US by denying them federal grants and loans for five years. It also required that the location of the call center agent be made known to the US American customers. Senate Bill 364 or the “Bring Jobs Home Act” likewise advocated the ceasing of tax breaks given to big companies that transfer jobs overseas, and allowed up to 20 percent tax credits to companies that could bring jobs back to the United States.17 The Philippine Trade and Investment Center based in Washington, DC, however, reported that last June 2012, the above mentioned bills did not get enough votes for further consideration in the US House of Representatives and Senate.
Albino Barrera, professor of economics and theology, argues that outsourcing must take its course as part of the normal markings of international trade. Outsourcing according to Barrera has tremendous effect on the lives of people in a developing nation. The Philippines evidently has improved its economy since the advent of outsourcing. Economists and policymakers know that the best and most enduring form of assistance developed countries can give to developing nations is not by giving direct grants but in providing employment. The moral obligation that calls first world nations to assist emerging economies—especially their former colonies—by opening their markets and creating jobs also calls them to help displaced workers in the North find another place in the economy.
Meanwhile, offshore outsourcing has caused resentment from citizens in developed countries because of the belief that their jobs are being taken away from them. Customers from developed countries, who feel a sense of superiority and are often ignorant about culture in emerging economies, likewise tend to look at services from the South as inferior.18
Many US customers recognize offshore call center workers by their accent and express hostility toward them, refusing to be served by these agents, and becoming downright aggressive toward them. “Others cursed,” the women quipped. Nice narrated that some clients put the phone down or demand to speak with a US American agent when they learn that they are talking to a Filipino customer service representative. “I do not usually take it personally. I respect their stand,” she disclosed. Che and the other women shared that there were instances when customers shouted at them because they were not satisfied with the response to their requests.
Our interviewees, however, have learned the art of dealing with irate clients. Che no longer gets annoyed with their rumblings. She just empathizes with them. Though conscious of the clients’ ethno- centrism, Jen simply allows them to rant until their anger subsides before proceeding to the transaction at hand. For some, it is understandable to have irate customers since they call precisely to complain about their dissatisfaction. Cris and Anning do not get offended when the clients swear because they understand that cursing for some of the customers is part of their ordinary lingo. Anning added that aside from being patient, it is also effective to speak in a slower pace and gentler tone of voice.
Sachin Ruikar observed that instead of taking the high road to educate customers and earning their trust in call centers, some firms deceive customers by making them believe that they are being served domestically.19 They do not allow their workers to reveal their real identity and the country where they are operating. The workers are even required to give fictitious names and locations. These companies believe that masquerading is one way of protecting the agents from the racism of their clients. Ma. Cecilia Alampay noted, however, that masquerading results in a greater turnover rate. Call centers need to recognize that masquerading is associated with lower cultural esteem that leads to weaker organization commit- ment.20 Cris sees masquerading as a form of deception; many call center agents are not comfortable acting like someone else. Some clients push the call center agents to reveal their true identity and when this happens, the workers feel a sense of embarrassment. This is usually one reason why they lose interest in the job and quit eventually.
Even if some call centers require masquerading, these six respondents confirmed that they are not encouraged to masquerade. While Che believes that she can masquerade if that is what is called for, Jen and Cris do not see masquerading as a good thing. Cris remarks: “Our clients know that we are from the Philippines and they do not have a problem with that. In fact they appreciate our customer service. I am very proud of being a Filipino. There is never any reason why I shouldn’t be.” She sees masquerading as a betrayal of one’s own country.
From a postcolonial perspective, Kimberlee Perez observes that outsourcing is a re-colonial practice that is inherently racist. She quotes Arundhati Roy, who states that “the call center industry is based on lies and racism. The people who call in are being misled into believing that they are talking to some white Americans sitting in America.”21 And even when companies do not ask their workers to masquerade, Perez argues that when a call center agent performs or talks like a US American, it sends a damaging message that in order to participate as a global player, one must conform and perform a constructed and narrow version of US culture.22 Global capitalism relies on outsourcing US popular culture as a form of reinforcing US global hegemony and re-colonial education. Employment opportunities that hinge on corporate mandates of cultural erasure constitute re-colonial oppressions.
Seen from another angle it is also possible to view masquerading as mimicry. The call center work requires the employees to imagine and construct the North, which is a classic case of reversing the gaze.23 It is historically the “other” that has been authorized and dominated by Northern perception and description. Hence, the process of creating the North itself is an enactment of power and is an act of resistance. As they construct the North, they also mimic the North in their workplace so as to gain easy acceptance among their clients, who desire sameness and to the extent that formerly colonized subjects/nations are able to profit from these jobs, this can be considered a form of negotiation in the context of the global economy.