N(ot)D(amaging)A(nyone)

Vintage fountain pen 1 by hisks

‘Vintage fountain pen 1’ by Kriss Szkurlatowski – http://www.12frames.eu

Probably I needn’t say what this post is about, the title tells it all, nevertheless I will do it for the records. Today I’m going to express my point of view on a well-known and much controversial topic: NDA, i.e. Non Disclosure Agreement, a.k.a. Confidentiality Agreement.

A premise: in principle, I’ve nothing against NDAs – they are a necessary tool to safeguard proprietary data. In my opinion, NDAs should be implemented in all those companies developing cutting-edge technologies, such as the one I work at. So you don’t have to think I’ve a bias against them. I’ve none. My blame goes to their use and abuse. Here’s my perspective on this hot topic.

NDAs are required (and absolutely mandatory) for any kind of business implying handling (and handling over) of information, just like translation services. They commit both parties to use, retain, and handle them with due respect and diligence. That’s OK. But too often they hide a second scope, at least, in my modest opinion: they are a shield against fair competition. I’m telling you why:

As a rule, NDAs applies to any proprietary information handed over by two parties in order to execute a supply contract, i.e. documents undergoing translation and related documents, personal and contact info of both parties, a.s.o.. But what occurs to you when you realize that  the NDA you are going to sign covers even the simple mention to any relationship with your direct client and doesn’t allow for any exception, not even against a written request? When this happened to me, it left me quite baffled. Why? I asked myself. Why should I avoid mentioning my relation with them? I must confess I forgot reading this clause in the NDA, so at first I quoted the partnership with my client in my LinkedIn profile (gosh!). Honestly, in the past I read and compiled tons of Confidentiality Agreements for my company and none of them provided for such limitation, so my reading of the document was summary – I know it’s no valid excuse for my shallow behaviour, I apologized with my client and amended promptly my mistake, but at the same time asked them if I could apply for an exception – “after all, translators need an assessable client portfolio to acquire reputability towards potential customers, needn’t they? I told my client. “We can understand your point of view, but unfortunately we cannot accept any request in this direction. The matter is closed.”

This is just one among a plethora of weird requests from clients. And what would you say to someone asking you to provide “at least 3 verifiable references” and obliging you not even to use online dictionaries for your terminological search? What about confidentiality of my other customers, then? Are they less valuable, perhaps? And – what’s more important –  Why are you asking me to?

To my malicious eyes the reason is blatant: allowing translators to admit their business relation with them would mean making their end customers know their names and contact details. I.E. giving them the possibility of getting in touch directly with their translators. Letting them negotiate directly with the real service providers. Jeopardizing their source of income. After all, a translation agency is a further link in the supply chain. Further link=extra cost. Am I malevolent? Maybe. Or maybe not.

Dear agencies, I can understand your standpoint as well, after all, all of us work for a living, but the competition-related problem might be solved by a nice, suitable, well-tailored non-competition agreement covering the period the business relation is in force. A non-aggression pact. Afterwards … well, the marketplace will decide. In addition, there’s a crucial aspect you should take into account: you hold a huge contracting power towards big customers as compared with solitary freelance translators. You represent solidity. You provide reputability. You provide 100% guaranteed solution packs. And that’s an added value for companies or corporations. In addition, once you get classified in their database of suppliers, they will hardly give work out to your subcontractor (i.e. translator). It would cost them time and money. Besides, a brand-new supplier is a potential risk, an established one is an assurance. So they are willing to pay your surcharge, I can assure you.

Another point: you cannot be sure your translators will stab you in the back. They might, but it’s not assured they will. After all, you’ve been the hand that has been feeding them and it’s not sure they will bite it. For example, I did not with my former employer (though I had some good reasons to do it actually). And it was the end customer, who tried to get in touch with me, not the opposite, so I could do it ethically. Besides, translation services were not the company core business, so it would not even be a severe damage if I ‘snaffled’ their client.

If you see this issue from the standpoint of us, the translators, you will surely perceive that your reluctance damages us. Our business is rooted in our reputability. And our reputability is stably grounded in our résumé. Well, considering that even you require references to verify our true capabilities, how do you think other customers might choose us if they cannot do the same? They won’t. They always require a verifiable background and we cannot provide ’em any proof we got a solid one. At least, no-one who deals exclusively with such agencies. So a vague idea is crossing my mind: probably you don’t want us to find customers. You cannot saturate us with work, but you don’t want us to get alternative sources. We must make ends meet, like any other, so can we come to an agreement?

Obviously, the above expressed considerations are just conjectures, I’ve neither certainty nor a proof that what I’m asserting is true. Mere speculation. I would also like to apologize with anyone who felt offended by my words. I gave vent a bit too vehemently to my frustration as a newcomer who keeps knocking her head into a wall of  reluctance and mistrust. I should have added: To whom it may concern. It does not apply to any translation agency. There are good ones around the world, which – for example – pay decent fees to their translators. Which pay even translation tests. Which settle invoices at due date. I’ve the highest regard for them. As to the others, I would like to say: Please, try to understand, as I just told, I have to make ends meet too  …

See you soon, folks …

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