There was a time, many moons ago, when translators working for translation agencies (before these agencies started calling themselves “LSPs”) were treated with respect. As an old timer who has been in this business for over 26 years now, I remember those days fondly.
I felt that the people at the agencies that I used to work for back then were my colleagues and friends, we could joke together and complain about unreasonable customers, partly because a decade or two ago, I was still able to communicate with translation agencies through the phone rather than only through e-mail.
But then the agencies discovered that if they start treating translators who do the actual work, namely translating, as easily replaceable and interchangeable zombie units, they can pay them half as much as they used to, and they can also let them wait for the paltry payment twice as long and generally treat them as indentured servants, which is obviously a very efficient way to run a business, almost as efficient as moving a factory from America or Europe to China, India, or Bangladesh.
If one defines a real translation agency (and there are still a few left out there) as a business that values the work of translators, and a zombie farm as a business that does not give a damn about the zombies working for the farm, what are the typical characteristics of a zombie farm?
I would like to propose the following Eleven Characteristic Signs of Zombie Farms in the modern translation industry.
1. Zombie farms are absolutely not interested in you as a person or in your “professional background and experience”
You are just another zombie to them – that is why zombie farm operators do not want to even bother looking at your resume. It is understandable that they don’t really have time to look at resumes of all those zombies who want to work for them! All they really need to know is your rate! Zombie translator applicants are simply asked to go to an online database and fill in each entry for zombie translator hopefuls. This makes it much easier to harvest suitable zombie profiles for potential jobs, which is called “finding a good match” in the zombie farm industry.
2. Zombie translators who don’t use Trados need not apply
Zombie translators must use expensive translation memory tools that they are ordered to buy, for about eight hundred dollars, usually Trados. The reason for this is again efficiency – translators using Trados or another preapproved computer memory tool are expected by zombie farm to gladly cough up major discounts for what is called in the industry “full and fuzzy matches” for which they will be paid nothing or next to nothing. While the translators thus make very little money after obligatory discounts have been deducted from payment, much more of the compensation for the work from the client will end up in the bottomless pockets of the zombie farm, which is again very efficient.
3. Zombie translators who are not ready to sign even the most demeaning “confidentiality agreement” need not apply
A zombie farm typically asks a prospective zombie translator to sign a long “Nondisclosure Agreement” even before a job is offered, specifying numerous and onerous duties and obligations of zombie translators who must among other things agree to clauses such as these:
4. Zombie translators must wait 60 days or more to be paid for zombie work
This is one reason why zombie translators are usually very hungry. The actual length of the waiting-to-be-fed period is usually disguised in the agreement in nearly impenetrable English (as in “we pay 30 day after this or that date of this or that month”), which translates into English as “we pay when we pay – take it or leave it, zombies!”.
5. Zombie translators must agree to work for free if necessary
Zombie translators must agree not to be fully compensated, or not to be compensated at all, should the wise heads at the zombie farm decide in their infinite wisdom that the translation is somehow defective and thus no money needs to be paid for days or weeks of zombie work.
6. Zombie translators must agree to pay “reasonable attorney’s fees”
…. namely should a zombie farm operator decide in his infinite wisdom to sue a zombie translator for any reason at all. Fortunately, this is very unlikely to occur because most translators, and zombie translators in particular, have no money and a reasonable (or even sane) attorney would thus be unlikely to sue them. However, this clause is always used in these contracts because the zombie translator is thus clearly expressing his or her near total submission to the zombie farm owner, which could potentially include also sacrificing the firstborn son should this be requested.
7. Prospective zombie translators must also agree to “transfer any and all intellectual property” to the zombie farm
… this would be intellectual property created while a zombie translator was working on a project through a zombie farm for an end customer. This clause again does not make a whole lot of sense because zombie translators are simply not very intellectual, and thus do not create much intellectual property, not to mention of course that it is also outrageous (and probably illegal) when a middleman wants to own a product that was created by an ostensibly freelance zombie and not an actual employee of the zombie farm during the zombie farm working hours.
8. Prospective zombie translators must also agree never to contact the end customer
Zombies may not do so for any reason at all, unless a written permission is obtained first from the zombie farm. This clause actually does make sense because if the end customer knew who the actual translator was, the customer might decide to circumvent the zombie farm and work directly with the translator.
(As these “Confidentiality Agreements” usually have about 3 thousand words, I am unfortunately able to list only some of the absurd and demeaning clause in a relatively short blog post).
9. Zombie translators are not allowed to submit their own invoices
Instead, they must submit “payment requests” by using software that has been specially prepared for them courtesy of the zombie farm. This is used to further reinforce the dependence of zombie translators on zombie farm procedures, for instance so that “payment requests” can be submitted (in lieu of invoices) only on certain dates, etc., which is again very efficient as the “wait-to-be-fed” time period can be further extended.
10. Zombie translators are always referred to as “vendors”, never as translators
This is a handy term used by zombie farms in impersonal e-mails specifying new requirements, rules, regulations and updated instructions for multitudes of “vendors”. The latest rules and restrictions must be followed to the letter if a zombie translator wants to eventually be paid. Ignorance of the latest zombie farm rules on the part of a zombie translator is no excuse and can result in further extension of the waiting period. The use of this term also shows that to a zombie agency, the main difference between ice cream and hot dog vendors and translators is that unlike translators, people selling ice cream and hot dogs cannot be forced to discount their products based on fuzzy and full matches.
11. Zombie translators are quick first responders happily competing among themselves to underbid each other
Zombie farm operators enjoy sending e-mails with one job offer to a whole bunch of zombies so that the zombies could start fighting among themselves to come up with the lowest price and shortest turnaround time. This is again very efficient because most zombie translators typically check their e-mail every couple of minutes, and since they know that they are bidding against the bids of other zombies, they always bid very low while offering to meet incredibly brutal deadlines.
Now that you are armed with a list of some of the most important characteristics of modern zombie farms, it should be quite easy to tell whether you are you working for a traditional translation agency, or whether you are working for a modern zombie farm.
If at least 6 of these characteristics are applicable to your “LSP” or “translation agency”, you are working for a zombie farm and the chances are that even if you have not been fully zombiefied yet, it is only a matter of time before an efficient zombiefication program will turn you into a full-fledged zombie.