India And Philippines Declare War On Call Center Bill

Last month I wrote about a bill before Congress that would both help fight the offshoring of call-center jobs and protect consumers. Now the countries where we have been sending those jobs are organizing a lobbying campaign to fight the bill.
The Bill
There is a bipartisan bill before Congress, The U.S. Call Center Worker and Consumer Protection Act, that would let the public know which companies are engaging in sending jobs out of the country, let customers ask to use an American call center instead, and ban federal grants or guaranteed loans to American companies that move call center jobs out of the US. In Call-Center Bill Would Let Customers Ask To Talk To Americans, I wrote about some of the specifics and the reason the bill is needed,

Today many call-center jobs are being moved out of the country to India and the Philippines. This costs American jobs, and can be very frustrating to consumers who have to speak to people who they cannot understand because of language problems or cultural differences. The The U.S. Call Center Worker and Consumer Protection Act gives consumers the right to ask where the person they are speaking with is based, and ask for an American-based representative instead. Among the things this bill would accomplish:

  • Require the Department of Labor to publicly list firms that move call center jobs overseas.
  • Make these firms ineligible for any direct or indirect federal loans or loan guarantees for five years.
  • Require 120 day advance notification of a proposed move off-shore.
  • Require call center employees to tell U.S. consumers where they are located, if asked.
  • Require that call centers transfer calls to a U.S. call center if asked.

Lobbying Campaign
India and the Philippines are organizing a lobbying campaign here — yes, foreign countries lobby Congress to take our jobs — to keep this bill from even being considered. An article in The Hindu explains,

India’s ambassador to the United States Nirupama Rao said that India would work to protect its business interests in the context of a proposed U.S. legislation against outsourcing call centre works to countries, including India.

The Manila Bulletin gets specific,

President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III was urged to create and send a strong contingent of Filipinos that would persuade lawmakers in the US Congress to stop the passage of a bill that could kill the US$9-billion business processing outsourcing (BPO) in the country.
Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone, chairman of the House Committee on Public Information, lamented that US House Bill No. 3596 or the Call Center and Consumers Protection Bill will discourage American companies from outsourcing services in other countries like the Philippines.
“We have to act immediately by sending a strong lobby team in the US. I believe this will kill the BPO industry in the country,” Evardone said.

In, Anti-Outsourcing Bill Stirs Fears In India, Philippines at the Huffington Post, Dave Jamieson quotes Rep. Tim Bishop’s (D-N.Y.) reaction to this effort by India and the Philippines,

When asked about such reactions, Bishop said that the fears in India and the Philippines reinforce the argument for the legislation.
“Frankly, the fact that both the Indian government and the Filipino government are reacting like this says that our bill is very badly needed,” he said. Most of the call center jobs lost in the U.S. are “sent primarily to India and the Philippines. So I hope [the bill] does have an impact.”
… While discussing the call center legislation last month, Bishop said that “outsourcing is one of the scourges of our economy and one of the reasons we are struggling to knock down the unemployment rate and reduce the number of Americans who are out of work … We can’t prohibit it, but we can certainly discourage it.”

Consumer Protection
This is not just an offshoring issue, it is also a consumer-protection issue. In Who Protects Info You Give To Offshored Call Centers?, I wrote about a study showing that offshoring of call centers causes us to lose protections on our privacy and financial information,

Not JUST Jobs Lost — Data Privacy Is Lost, Too
A new study by the Communication Workers of America backs up the need for that bill. The report is called, Why Shipping Call Center Jobs Overseas Hurts Us Back Home. The study found that offshoring call-centers undoes protection of Americans’ private information. Personal data can be available to people who could use it for criminal purposes. Also, once information is sent across borders governments do not need warrants to collect this info.

The full text of the bill is available here:

H.R.3596 – To require a publicly available a list of all employers that relocate a call center overseas and to make such companies ineligible for Federal grants or guaranteed loans and to require disclosure of the physical location of business agents engaging in customer service communications.

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
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Corporate Corruption: So Obvious – How To End It

A company (or industry) makes a tremendous amount of money by scamming us, screwing us, stealing from us, killing us, poisoning us, destroying our environment or some other thing that one way or another a working democracy would stop immediately. But the company uses a portion of the money they are accumulating to pay off legislators, regulators, inspectors — someone in the government — to keep them from stopping the company from what they are doing. And they pay off others in the government to stop the rest of the government from doing anything about that. Meanwhile they spend a bit more of that money on marketing/propaganda/PR/trickery to make us look the other way.
So it continues. And we all get poorer while they get richer. And each year this continues they have even more money and power to use to keep us from stopping them.
We see it over and over again. It is becoming the primary path to wealth here. Companies and industries getting rich from corruption, bribery, buying elections, buying legislators, purchasing government subsidies or tax breaks or handouts or bailouts… It is so much more cost-effective than actually making something worthwhile and slowly building an industry based on quality and good service to customers that it is replacing the old, more honest business model.
How many examples can you think of just off the top of your head?

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Stop Corporate Lobbying With Taxpayer Money

This post originally appeared at the Commonweal Institute’s Uncommon Denominator blog

Why are recipients of the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) – better known as the Banking Bailout – allowed to continue to lobby? Taxpayer dollars should not be used to influence our government. We, the People should be telling them what to do, not the other way around.

TARP recipients spent $114 million on lobbying last year as the financial crisis emerged. In just the last quarter of the year eighteen bailout recipients spent $14.8 million to influence the government, as the TARP funds were distributed.

The lobbying has paid off. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, “The companies’ political activities have, in part, yielded them $295.2 billion from TARP, an extraordinary return of 258,449 percent.”

TARP recipients are currently lobbying against compensation caps at companies receiving TARP, against increasing bank regulation – and even against increased oversight of the use of TARP funds in the TARP Reform and Accountability Act! They are also lobbying against the Arbitration Fairness Act, the Fairness in Nursing Home Arbitration Act, the Mortgage Reform and Anti-Predatory Lending Act and the Helping Families Save Their Homes in Bankruptcy Act, Credit Card Holders Bill of Rights and the Stop Unfair Practices in Credit Cards Act!

But these companies are not just lobbying in favor of their own(ers) interests; they are lobbying against those of the rest of us. Recently it has come to light that Bank of America, Citigroup and other TARP recipients are organizing efforts to oppose the Employee Free Choice Act – federal legislation that would enable workers to organize unions, which results in increased income and benefits for working people, thereby enabling them to make their credit card and mortgage payments.

Use of corporate funds to influence our government is a larger problem than just this current misuse of TARP. In fact, this BofA and other companies’ use of TARP funds to oppose the Employee Free Choice Act supports an argument that the current economic crisis is a result of corporate lobbying. A corporate-funded assault on government has resulted in de-legislation and deregulation, enriching a few at the expense of the rest of us, while eroding the foundations of our economy and our democracy. Now the public has been harvested in one scheme after another, plundered for every dollar as incomes stagnated, debt skyrocketed and savings fell. Consumption fell off the cliff as the work- and debt-load tapped out people’s ability to participate in the economy. The resulting crisis has led to taxpayer dollars propping them all up.

And now millions of those taxpayer dollars are being used for … even more lobbying.

Whether or not this collapse occurred as a direct result of lobbying and other influence buying, it was not a grassroots movement that led to repealing the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, allowing financial giants to trade mortgage-backed securities and collateralized debt obligations. It was not citizens holding politicians’ feet to the fire that killed the Financial Services Antifraud Network Act. At the same time the lobbying-bought deregulation and suspension of oversight allowed these companies to sell trillions in credit default swaps without the necessary reserves to cover the potential downside. And here we are.

Companies understand lobbying as a way to profit, not to advance policies that serve all of us. A 2006 New York Times article discusses how Google felt it had “no choice but to get into the arena” to start “spreading its lobbying dollars” around to politicians and quotes a Google lobbyist saying the “policy process is an extension of the market battlefield.” According to the Washington Post, a lobbyist explosion occurred in the last decade, doubling to 34,750 between 2000 and 2005, the result of “wide acceptance among corporations that they need to hire professional lobbyists to secure their share of federal benefits.”

This lobbying does not bring We, the People any benefit, it only boosts the financial interests of certain individuals. This is not competition to improve a product or service or the efficiency of the company. It is paying off politicians to gain unfair competitive advantage or to receive subsidies or tax breaks.

Clearly it is time to demand that TARP recipients stop using corporate funds for anything other than operating their companies, and get their noses out of our business.

Lobbyists say they serve a necessary function, providing information to legislators. But corporations can’t have it both ways. If lobbying is purely informational and not intended to sway favor for particular corporations, then the funds are not being used to generate profit for the shareholders and the use of funds and resources is theft from the company. But if the lobbying is intended to tilt the playing field and gain benefits for a company over others it is really just bribery, an affront to our democracy and laws, corrupting our system. If the use of corporate funds to lobby is for the financial gain of a few executives, this is also theft from the company by those few for their personal gain.

We should immediately prohibit companies from engaging in lobbying while accepting taxpayer dollars. Restricting lobbying by TARP recipients would be a bipartisan solution, as Republican lawmakers have called for exactly this approach in the past. The 1981 Heritage Foundation Mandate for Leadership called for a ban on lobbying by recipients of federal funds, as did the 1995 Republican “Istook Amendment.”

And it is time to open a discussion about whether any corporate funds – whether the company is a recipient of TARP funding or not – should be used to influence our government. We should be telling them what to do, not the other way around.

Click through to the Commonweal Institute’s Uncommon Denominator blog