Is it disempowering to pay people a few cents for a job?

It’s pretty tricky to criticize someone who’s trying to do good and seems to have the best intentions in the world. Laila Chirayath Janah (the darling of tech4Africa yesterday) heads up Samasource, whose strap line is “We bring dignified, computer-based work to women, youth, and refugees living in poverty”.
Samasource gets clients in San Francisco to hand them work that they outsource piecemeal to people who are desperate for jobs in underdeveloped countries. They believe that poor people in Africa can do as good a job as anyone else, at a market related price.
And therein lies the rub.
Is the market related price a fair wage? Especially when you’re not specifically aiming at any given country’s minimum wage.  In fact, Samasource prefers not to get involved in the “bureaucracy” of dealing with governments, so they try and stay under the radar, rather than get caught up in discussions about compliance.
As described by Stefan Magdalinsky yesterday, lack of structure around paying workers in third world countries can be inherently disempowering. He gave the example of how, when policemen in Afghanistan were paid directly (via cellphone), they were astonished at how much they earned because until then, the middleman had taken a rather large slice. If Samasource continues to outsource work to developing countries without taking consideration of minimum wages in those countries, they may be doing more harm than good.  Apart from skating on thin legal ice, and opening the door for corrupt middlemen, is it not more disempowering for people to value themselves as being worth only a few cents a day?
I don’t question the underlying good intentions of morality of Leila and her colleagues. But I am suggesting that they always consider paying at least the minimum wage of the country in which they are working.
Listen to Sam Wilson on the topic here –
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3 Responses to Is it disempowering to pay people a few cents for a job?

  1. Anthony Yunnie says:

    I agree with some points, but wonder if interfering with the “market” rate may lead to these people not earning anything. Of course, it would be great to ensure that people earn minimum wage, I am just not sure how realistic it is to expect that they do?

    An interesting topic for discussion, I think.

  2. idasa says:

    Samasource is targeting the poorest people in the world – who are desperate for jobs and who, in some instances, will trade dignity for food. If you’re going to engage with this section of the population without exploiting them, then you need to raise the bar in terms of what is considered a decent human wage. Otherwise you’re joining the rest of the world who is exploiting the poor, ultimately to their detriment.
    I’m not convinced Samasource is shifting the paradigm out of that space.

  3. Pingback: Aid and Development Linkage | Development Policy blog

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