Possible ethical issue: hiring... volunteers?!

EN Discussions on the politics of Babels, alternative interpretation systems, linguistic diversity and the Social Forums
ES Discusiones políticas sobre Babels, sistemas alternativos de interpretación, diversidad lingüística y los foros sociales...
FR Discussions politiques sur Babels, les systèmes d'interprétation alternatifs, la diversité linguistique et les forums sociaux...
Maria Brander
Posts: 80
Joined: Wed Oct 20, 2004 7:08 pm

Possible ethical issue: hiring... volunteers?!

Postby Maria Brander » Sat Feb 09, 2008 11:46 am

(messages from the Babels ESF2008 distribution list in Google groups)

Dear all,

This is even more worrying than I thought it was at first. And I don't think I am a hopelessly dogmatic person, really.

Despite the fact that I have always defended the enticement of professional interpreters into our network, it is simply appalling that anyone in the Babels community would justify being paid at all (apart from the full-time job of organising a WSF), lest of all being paid "less" (let's hope the AIIC people don't hear about this) for a smaller meeting, AND the hiring of a private business.

It leaves me completely flabbergasted.

Who would decide which company was contracted and when? The same owner of the business, however trustworthy he may be? Where would the limit be? What would we do if suddenly a non-solidary business decided they were more fit to do the job? Would any company, in all fairness, be able to apply? How do we decide that a company is solidary? Etc, etc. This issue brings on endless dangers and ethical dilemmas that should not be taken lightly or discussed on a distribution list.

I am so stunned I have decided there is no other morally correct option for me but to publish it on the Babels Forum, with no surnames, because I really don't want to make any of this a personal issue (see the unfairness of the Naumann controversy to some of our volunteers).

I could keep on argueing endlessly about the defence of our principles vs. efficiency; professionals vs. non-professionals, and all our other traditional discussions...

This is why I am not going to say anymore about it.

I'm just going to submit it to public opinion. (see Political Discussions in the Babels Forum viewforum.php?f=14 )

Thankfully, it hasn't happened. And I repeat that this is not about naming anyone (I agree with you, Leda, Robert also seems to me "a great professional, and a very decent human being, who always went out of his way to help Babels, and did so very well and very competently".

This is in NO WAY a personal issue. It is an ethical dilemma, especially because it hasn't happened (yet).

I also agree with you, Leda, in that there is a lot of explaining to be done. Your last mail has left me very surprised indeed. And I think the right place to ask for these explanations would be in either of these two pages of the Forum:



It could be a good idea to post your message there.

Let's talk everything through, openly and in all fairness and transparency.

All the best,


P.S. Maricruz, my age (gender, country of origin and eye colour) are completely beside the point in this discussion. We are talking about defining the volunteer nature of Babels. Or, at least, I am.

ES- sigo traduciendo al español mis mensajes, y los pondré en el Foro en breve. Ver la sección de Political Discussions viewforum.php?f=14

Gracias por vuestra paciencia y un beso.


Date : Fri, 8 Feb 2008 16:18:56 +0100
Local : Ven 8 fév 2008 16:18
Objet : possible ethical issue


I've been reading your e-mails for a while now, from afar, but with
the utmost affection ;-)

I would like to ask whether this issue of paying a translation
business is correct ethically and follows our charter of principles,
and whether it is an informed decision within Babels, that is, whether
all Babels volunteers have been informed of this. It is something that
genuinely worries me.

This is why I think it should be made very clear which services
Robert's business will be paid for by the government. I also think it
should be specified with total transparency and uploaded to our Babels
Forum, if it hasn't been done already. Babels is a network of

All my love and strength for your volunteer endeavours!
María, from Salamanca.


Os he estado leyendo durante algún tiempo, desde lejos, pero con
muchísimo cariño ;-)

Me gustaría preguntar si todo esto de pagar a una empresa de
traducción es correcto éticamente y está de acuerdo con los principios
de Babels, y si es una "decisión Babels" que haya sido tomada con el
conocimiento de todos sus voluntarios. Es un tema que me preocupa de

Por eso creo que deberían quedar muy a cambio de qué servicios la
empresa de Robert ha recibido dinero del gobierno. También creo que
habría que especificarlo con total transparencia en un documento y
colgarlo en el foro de Babels, si es que no está ya ahí. Babels es una
red de voluntarios.

Ánimo con todo y muchos besos,
María, desde Salamanca.

subjectRES: IC meeting in Belem & assembly of social movements
mailing list

I own an interpreting company here and have my own equipment. The
state government asked for and received a quote from us to do the IC

Has someone (Robert?) been contacted about helping to
organise interpretation for these meetings at the end of next month?
If not, how can we help, Alessandra?


> FR
> Il ne faut pas confondre une reunion du Conseil International, qui a besoin de 6-8 interpretes au total, (3 cabines) et un Forum. Tout a fait d'accord pour un Forum, ou il faut priviligier le local, mais aussi inclure l'international pour le compelement et le principe!

> EN
> It's important not to confuse an International Coucil meeting which only requires 6-8 interpreters in all (3 booths() and a Forum. I agree that teams for fora should favour the local, whilst also including the international to compelete & also on principle

> Cheers

> Judith

De : "
I think this all sounds really positive Robert. Ideally, let's hope you can recruit all the local pros for the project as volunteers.
And as to a real training project, great!
About Alis, I think Kate explained a bit to you. Alis is also member of the Ic. The equipment really works. The only word of warning is that the radios bought to use for listening must NOT go to scan mode or they don't stay tuned.
Therefore whoever is in charge of buying them should be careful of specifications being met. (It all worked brilliantly in Bamako in 2006, Nairobi was a mess, because wrong radios bought.) This should be brought up & discussed in IC meeting (by you &/or someone from Alis...)
What do the other people in this group have to say?
Je pense que tout cela est t positif, Robert. De facon ideale, esperons que tu pourras recruter tous les pros locaux pour le projet en tant que benevoles.
Et par rapport a un reel projet de formation, genial!
Sur la question d'Alis, je pense que Kate t'en a touche deux mots. Alis est egalement membre du CI. L'equipement marche reellement. La seule chose dont il faut se mefier est que les radios ne DOIVENT PAS passer en mode scanner, sinon elles ne resteront pas callees sur la frequence selectionnee.
Que la personne responsable de l'achat
Fasse attention de respecter ces specifications. (Ca a marche de facon geniale a Bamako en. 2006, Nairobi c'etait le bordel, car les mauvaises radios ont ete achetes. A mon avis, cela devrait faire partie des sujets discutes lors du CI lors de la discussion sur le FSM a Belem. (C'est toi ou bien une personne d' Alis qui pourrait en parler.)
Quelles sont les reactions des autres membres de ce groupe?
---- Envoyé avec le BlackBerry(r) d'Orange ----

-----Original Message-----
From: Robert
Date: Tue, 04 Sep 2007 06:16:36
To:Babels en el FSA 2008
Subject: RES: RES: IC meeting in Belem & assembly of social movements
Obrigado pela explicação. Só descobri sobre a reunião do CI umas
semanas atrás quando atendi a solicitação do governo do estado de
encaminhar orçamento para fornecer equipamentos e interpretes para a
Depois, o governo também me solicitou elaborar um projeto para
capacitar voluntários locais como interpretes durante o ano de 2008
para o FSM2009. Na época, estive fora de contato com Babels por mais
que um ano e sabia que precisava reatar as ligações com o grupo, que
agora fiz. O orçamento foi um orçamento normal porem um pouco
conservador (em termos de preço).
Agora que estou novamente ('oficialmente') em contato com Babels,
refarei o orçamento, tentando conseguir interpretes profissionais
dispostos a voluntariar os seus serviços.
Pergunta: se houver disponível interpretes locais (Belém) e que seria
mais econômico do que trazer voluntários de fora, como devo proceder?
Solicitei o governo do estado a desconsiderar o orçamento original e
avisei que encaminharei outro.
Me esforçarei em sempre comunicar abertamente e de forma completa.
Talvez vai entupir as nossas caixas de entrada.
Preciso ficar em dia sobre o que transcorreu no ultimo ano ou dois -
por exemplo, não sei nada sobre esse equipamento ALIS.
Como já mencionei, a minha empresa tem uma metodologia muita boa e
pratica para treinar interpretes de conferencias, que teria o maior
prazer em compartilhar com outros multiplicadores num regime de
Estou muito entusiasmado em fazer novamente parte do processo dos FSs
e agradeço todos aqueles com os quais já me correspondi que me
receberam de forma tão calorosa!
Outro mundo É possível!
Thank you for the explanation. I only found out about the IC meeting a
few weeks ago when I responded to the state government's request for a
quote to provide equipment and interpreters for the meeting.
Afterwards, the government also asked me to prepare a project for
training local volunteers throughout 2008 to have them as ready as
possible for the 2009 WSF. At the time, I had been out of contact with
Babels for over a year and knew that I needed to reactivate my ties
with the group, which I have since done. The quote was a regular,
howbeit conservative (pricewise) commercial quote.
Now that I am again ('officially') in contact with Babels, I will redo
the quote, trying to secure professional interpreters willing to
volunteer their services.
Question: if local (Belém) professional interpreters are available and
would be less expensive than flying in volunteers, how should I
I have asked the state government to disconsider the original quote
and will provide them a new one.
I will endeavor to always communicate openly and fully. That may mean
stuffed inboxes for all of us.
I need to catch up on what has happened in the last year or so - I
know nothing about ALIS equipment, for example.
As I have also mentioned, my company has a very good, hands-on
training methodology for booth interpreters, which I am more than
willing to share with other trainers under a copyleft scheme.
I am very excited to again be part of the SF process and thank all
those who have corresponded with me so far for the warm welcome!
Another world IS possible!

De : Robert
Date : Fri, 8 Feb 2008 08:30:09 -0800 (PST)
Local : Ven 8 fév 2008 17:30
Objet : Re: possible ethical issue

Prezada Maria,
Obrigado por levantar esta questão. Tenho este conflito dentro de mim
há muito tempo, na verdade, desde que me envolvi com Babels em 2003.
Estou completamente comprometido em ajudar fazer que este outro mundo
possivel se torna realidade. Uma das ações concretas que realizo é de
oferecer os meus serviços como tradutor e interprete profissional e
bem qualificado ou por preços reduzidos ou de graça, dependendo de
cada caso, para movimentos engajados em militancia social e ambiental.
Tambem arrisquei a minha reputação agressivamente recrutando
voluntarios para Babels em associações de classe e listas de
Acredito no conceito da interpretação feita por voluntarios, mas eu
nao acredito em agarrar numa dogma quando a mesma nao se encaixa com a
realidade. Muitos dos voluntarios, especialmente os da Europa, onde é
bem comum achar pessoas poligotas desde o berço, conseguiram realizar
o serviço de interprete de conferencia de forma adequada nos eventos
do FS. Acho que muitos dos voluntarios com os quais trabalhei em
eventos nas Americas aprenderam a sua segunda lingua em escolas e nao
tiveram conhecimentos suficientes a realizar bem o serviço de
interprete de conferencias. Devemos analisar esta questão de forma
racional e tomar uma decisão livre de dogmas a respeito.
A mesma coisa vale, e talvez mais ainda, no caso de equipamento de
interpretação. Se o sistema alternativo funciona, OTIMO! Fantastico,
pois obviamente seria inviavel pagar preços comerciais para a
quantidade de equipamento necessaria nestes eventos. Mas a experiencia
nos mostra que a maioria das vezes estes equipamentos tem tido muitos
problemas. Não sou contra o uso de equipamentos nem interpretes
alternativos, eu só quero que tudo funciona!
Então, será que o voluntarismo é uma dogma que não pode ser alterada
sob qualquer hipotese? Ou devemos buscar sempre a militancia
voluntaria quando for possivel mas ter como preocupação principal/
maior que os eventos se saiam bem em termos de interpretação? Que
preferem as organizações que compoem o FS?
Outro mundo é possivel, mas ate alcanca-lo, devemos nos abster de tudo
que tem neste mundo presente? Não pagamos linhas aereas, que poluem o
meio ambiente, para transportar os interpretes para cá e para lá? Não
pagamos pelas pilhas toxicas que usamos nos radinhos? São compradas ou
Pessoalmente, acredito que, sempre que viavel, devemos usar
interpretes voluntarios e equipamentos alternativos. Sempre que nao
for viavel, devemos buscar outros alternativos.
Dear Maria,
Thank you for bringing this up. I have struggled with this issue for
some time, actually since I got involved with Babels in 2003. I am
completely committed to helping make this other possible world a
reality. One of the concrete actions I take to do so is to offer my
services as a highly qualified professional translator and interpreter
at either reduced rates or for free, depending on the case, to
movements engaged in social and environmental activism.
I also put my reputation on the line aggressively recruiting volunteer
interpreters for Babels among professional associations and discussion
I believe in the concept of volunteer interpreting, but I do not
believe in clinging to dogmas to the point where they clash with
reality. Many of the non-professional volunteers, especially from
Europe, where it is quite common to find people who are mulitlingual
from birth, have been able to do sufficiently well as conference
interpreters at SF events. I think that very many of the volunteers I
have worked with in events in the Americas had learned their second
language in schools and were not sufficiently knowlegeable to do a
good job as intepreters. This should be rationally analyzed and some
non-dogmatic decision should be made about it.
The same thing is true, or more so, with regards to conference
interpreting equipment. If an alternative system works, GREAT!
Wonderful, it would obviously be unfeasible to pay commercial rates
for the amount of equipment needed at these events. But experience has
shown that most of the time this equipment has been fraught with
problems. I am not against using alternative equipment or
interpreters, I just want them to work!
So, is volunteerism a dogma that cannot be altered under any
circumstances? Or should we strive for volunteer activisim whenever
possible but have making sure that the events run smoothly in terms of
language translation as our primary concern? What would the
organizations that make up the SF prefer?
Another world is possible, but until we achieve it, should we abstain
from everything in this present world? Don't we pay capitalist,
commercial airlines to carry the interpreters to and fro, polluting
the environment? Do we pay for the toxic batteries that go into the
radios we use? Are they purchased or donated?
I personally believe that whenever feasible, we should use volunteer
interpreters and alternative equipment. Whenever it is unfeasible, we
should look for other alternatives.

from María
date Feb 8, 2008 8:49 PM
subject Re: possible ethical issue
mailing list

EN (ESP en una horita o así, que tengo que cenar ;-)

Dear Robert,

Thank you very much for your kind e-mail. However, you didn't answer
my (very indirect) question.

I would like to know what happened in the end with the organising of
interpretation for that famous IC meeting. I have read most of the
mails on this list but it seems to me it was not clear whether you
were paid or not and by whom. It is not even clear whether you
attended or organised the meeting outside this list, let alone whether
we do have a little "ethical issue" at hand. Or a "breach of Babels
Protocol" issue, indeed.

If you weren't paid, then I don't see the problem at all.

If you were paid, then it would be another matter and we would all
have to study it accordingly on the Babels public Forum with total

Of course, you do seem to me a very responsible businessman who runs a
very decent enterprise with solidarity and accountability, but that
has nothing to do with being faithful to the Babels Charter.

Of course we want as many professional VOLUNTEERS as we can get. That
is not the issue. The issue here is a possible conflict of interest.
And I say "possible" because I don't have all the information and
because it seems to me you're a very nice guy who doesn't happen to
agree with the principles of Babels.

I'm awfully sorry if I'm being so sincere here. Maybe I should have
made it sound less harsh, but this is how I feel about it. And you
are, of course, very welcome to tell me I'm wrong. And I am completely
aware of the fact that you have worked in good faith according to your
own principles, but not according to those of the Babels Charter, I


It's almost nine and I'm getting kicked out of my office, I'll
translate this into Spanish when I get home.

All the best to all of you,


From María
date Feb 8, 2008 10:07 PM
subject Re: possible ethical issue

Spanish version of my last e-mail

Estimado Robert:

Muchas gracias por tu amable mail. Sin embargo, no contestaste a mi
pregunta (aunque era muy indirecta).

Me gustaría saber qué pasó al final con la organización de la
interpretación para aquella famosa reunión. He leído casi todos los
mails de esta lista pero parece que no me acaba de quedar claro si te
pagaron, ni quién lo hizo. Tampoco queda claro si asististe a la
reunión, si la organizaste fuera de esta lista, ni mucho menos si
estamos ante un pequeño dilema ético o de incumplimiento del Protocolo

Si no te pagaron, no veo problema.

Si al final lo hicieron, ya sería un tema distinto y habría que
estudiarlo como merece en el Foro público de Babels con total

Sin duda alguna me pareces un empresario responsable, que dirige una
empresa muy decente de manera solidaria y con responsabiliad social,
pero eso no tiene nada que ver con ser fiel a los principios de

Claro que queremos contar con todos los profesionales VOLUNTARIOS que
se pueda. Ésa no es la cuestión. El tema que tratamos aquí es un
posible conflicto de intereses. Y digo "posible" porque no cuento con
toda la información y porque me pareces un tío muy majo que,
casualmente, no está de acuerdo con los principios de Babels.

Siento estar siendo tan sincera. A lo mejor debería haber intentado
sonar menos dura, pero así es como lo siento. Y, por supuesto, puedes
decirme que me equivoco. También soy consciente del hecho de que has
trabajado con buena fe siguiendo tus propios principios, pero no
siguiendo los de la Carta de Babels, creo.


Son casi las nueve y me echan de la oficina, traduciré esto en cuanto
llegue a casa.

Os deseo lo mejor a todos,


from Robert
date Feb 8, 2008 9:39 PM
subject Re: possible ethical issue
mailing list

Obrigado por esclarecer o que era realmente o ponto crucial. Sim, fui
pago pelo serviço. Como Babels nao entrou em contato, por causa de um
problema na base de dados, e o governo estadual, que havia solicitado
um orçamento para a reuniao, mas depois nao me deu retorno, resolvi
participar na reuniao anual da Associaçao Americana dos Tradutores nos
EUA durante o periodo da reuniao do CI.
A minha empresa foi chamada no primeiro dia do evento para fornecer
equipamentos com urgencia, pois o equipamento alternativo nao estava
funcionando, e assim fez. Se isso infringiu a Carta de Babels entao
talvez deveriamos revisar os principios dado os anos de experiencia
acumulada por Babels desde que foram escritos.
Eu ate concordo, em tese, em pagar mais para equipamento e interpretes
alternativos. Usar todo este dinheiro dos organizadores dos FSs,
contudo, é uma enorme responsibilidade moral, e merecem ou
equipamentos e interpretes que funcionam bem desde a primeira vez ou
pelo menos tem uma curva de aprendizagem curta e fazem suas
experiencias entre as reunioes e nao durante elas. Ai que esta o meu
ponto. Frequentemente o equipamento alternativo tem falhado e muitos
milhares de dolares gasto, que é uma soma incrivel se for calcular
quanto custa realizar um FS e depois nao ter a interpretaçao funcionar
corretamente. Isto tem acontecido repetidamente ao longo dos anos e eu
acho que precisamos analisar o que esta ocorrendo de forma critica e
ver o que deveria ser feito a respeito. Penso que trabalhar com
empresas solidarias seria uma soluçao possivel. Certamente nao eh a
unica e eu estou disposto apoiar qualquer soluçao que funciona!
Respondi a sua pergunta?

Thank you again for clarifying what was actually at issue. Yes I was
paid for the job. As Babels did not approach me, because of a database
mix-up, and the state government, which had requested a quote for the
meeting, never got back to me, I attended the annual American
Translators Association meeting in the US during the period of the IC
We were called on the first day of the actual meeting to urgently
provide equipment, as the alternative equipment wasn't working, and
did so. If this is against the Babels Charter then perhaps we should
review the principles to see if they are feasible in light of the
years of experience accumulated by Babels since they were written.
I even agree with paying more for alternative equipment and
interpreters than commercial ones in theory. Using all of this money
from SF organizers, however, is a huge moral responsibility, and they
deserve either equipment and interpreters that can do the job
straightaway, or at least have a short learning curve and experiment
between meetings and not during them. That is my point. Often the
alternative equipment hasn't worked, and many thousands of dollars
spent, a huge amount if one were to calculate how much it costs to
bring an SF together and then not have interpreting function properly.
This has happened repeatedly over the years and I think we need to
critically analyze what is happening and what should be done about it.
I think that working with solidary companies is one possible solution.
Certainly it is not the only one and I am willing to get behind any
solution that works!
Does that answer your question?

A proposito, foi o Governo do Estado do Pará que me pagou
By the way, it was the state government of Pará that paid me

from María
date Feb 8, 2008 11:28 PM
subject Re: possible ethical issue

Dear Robert,

I don't have enough information about that database mixup. However,
from what I have read on this list, you were not registered in Babels
at the time. I am not registered in Canada; that is why I receive
mails only for Spain.

I think it is great that you were contacted to provide your own
private booths as an emergency solution. Please let us know how that
worked out and whether you were paid for providing only the booths or
for more services. And I think it would be convenient to make it
public somewhere.

It is very regretful (and impolite on their part) that the State asked
for a quote and then never got back to you.

It is also terrible that the Alis equipment didn't work, and I would
be very grateful if anyone on this list could clarify that point. Why
didn't it work? Did we have enough technicians? Etc. As it happens,
the fortunate babelita writing these lines has recently helped in
physically putting together an Alis booth in Granada for lack of other
more suitable volunteers ;-)

Our booth in Granada worked. One booth. In Europe, I know (people
repeat to me I live in Europe again and again). I am aware of that- no
need to tell me, I wake up in Europe and I go to bed in the same
continent every night. Our one booth worked in Europe, that I can
witness for. Many more worked in Athens, too.

Now, what worries me is something different.

Of COURSE helping out in times of need is in NO WAY against the Babels
Charter. What would we have done without you, when the Alis booths
didn't work, paid or unpaid?

Of COURSE the Babels Charter can be reviewed, following the Babels
Protocol, anytime but, please, in a PUBLIC and totally transparent
manner, following the protocol.

Or, let's take out the 'please'.

No need to say 'please' to ask for something that is only fair.

Dear Robert, dear all, I believe every babelit@ who signs up
voluntarily to help in our activities has a right to know whether a
State pays someone to do the same job. I am not talking here about
emergency measures. I am saying that, in general, we should follow the
Protocol for these things.

Otherwise it would be extremely unfair for all babelitos acting in good faith.

The Protocol was not created just for fun. It is not some senseless
list of stuff to do to bore you all afternoon and hate sending e-mails
and publishing documents on the wiki. The Protocol is there to prevent
misunderstadings, and to protect us as volunteers from "bad faith" in

The Protocol is there to protect you, us (me, even if it is only from
staying up on a Friday night making sure everyone understands this and
has read the protocol). The Protocol, OF COURSE, is not infallible
either. It could be changed, in theory, by PUBLIC consensus. But not,
IN ANY CASE, on a private distribution list.

In the light of my (very own) personal experience in Babels (though in
Europe, I know there's a difference, everyone keeps telling me), Alis
works. It was OK in Athens.

I really don't think working with solidary companies is the best
solution. But then, that is my (very own) point of view (in the same
way Robert defends the contrary from his very own point of view) and I
would very much like to open the discussion to all the Babels
community at the Babels public Forum to see what everyone thinks.

Finally, no, I don't think that answers my question. You have been
lovely to me and very patient, but this issue is much more complex and
has to be explored. I am awfully sorry if it looks like I am
questioning you or something; I hope you understand that this is a
very spiky issue within Babels and I am doing my best, in good faith,
to ascertain what went wrong.

What really worries me is the following:

Just imagine there is a Social Forum-related meeting next month in the
godforsaken city of Salamanca, Spain. Let's imagine, too, that the
Salmantinians elect a new mayor from a local
left-wing party (I'm letting my imagination really run wild here), and
that someone from his new team contacts me and asks me for a quote to
provide interpretation/booths/interpreters/training/organising.

What would I have to do, in that case? Would I be able, in good faith,
to accept their money?

I don't think it would be right to accept. Especially when it is a
small meeting. A World Social Forum would be different- you need many
people working full-time for months.

I know I don't have all the information- this is why I keep asking
things. I also ignore whether there were any other babelitos in situ,
or whether it was more or less expensive to fly people in. Do tell us
all about these things. I am asking in good faith.

And please don't answer I live in Europe. I think am aware of that, by
now ;-) There are many, many volunteers from the South who are not
being paid. That is why they're called volunteers, precisely.

I think this is where the huge moral responsibility really lies. In
the nature of volunteer work. This doesn't mean we should keep the
money in a shoebox either, if you know what I mean ;-)

I hope I have been able to express my fears without hurting any feelings.

Muchos besitos,

ES- Lo siento, me he explayado, como es habitual en mí, y ahora tengo
que traducirlo al español o, si no, quedaré como una europea
continental que habla sólo lenguas coloniales. ¿Me esperáis hasta
mañana en castellano? Me caigo de sueño y no he cenado. Los temas
éticos me calientan mucho y se me olvida hasta comer. Gracias. Aquí ya
es muy de noche.

rom Robert
date Feb 9, 2008 12:41 AM
subject Re: possible ethical issue

Obrigado pela sua explicação e as respostas tão gentis.
No seu exemplo, eu proporia o seguinte: se você conseguiria fazer
melhor e por menos que uma empresa comercial, então você deveria
fazer. Se Babels consegue fazer bem e de forma eficiente, então a
Babels deve ter preferencia. Se a diferença entre as duas não for
significativa, então Babels deveria ter preferencia. Se Babels por
algum motivo não tiver condições de fazer bem ou de forma eficiente,
então outro alternativo, o menos completamente capitalista e
explorador, deve ser utilizado.
Thank you for your explanation and your corteous responses.
In your example, I would propose the following: if you could do it
better and for less as a commercial company, then that's what should
be done. If Babels can do the job well and efficiently, then Babels
should be given preference. If the difference between them is not
significant, Babels should be given preference. If Babels is unable to
either do it well or efficiently, then another alternative, the least
overtly capitalist and exploitive, should be used.

from Robert
date Feb 9, 2008 4:01 AM
subject Ethical Issues

Obrigado por esclarecer um pouco mais as coisas. De fato, algo que
para mim é tao aparente que nem mencionei é que nao sou alguem fora ou
contra Babels. Babels como o proprio FS é muito diverso e pluralista.
Venho voluntariando os meus serviços desde 2001-2 com tradução escrita
e desde o FSE em Paris como interprete.
Eu tenho criticado algumas coisas em Babels mas continuo fazendo parte
e pretendo continuar. Para mim, tanto faz eu fazer por dinheiro ou por
idealismo, quero fazer o melhor possivel. As vezes sinto-me que há
gente que pensa que por ser voluntario, nao tem problema se nao for
bem feito. Nisso discordo.
De novo, obrigado por me ajudar me expressar, as vezes falo muito mas
esqueço de pontos importantes.
Thanks for clarifying things up a bit more. Actually, something that
to me was so obvious I forgot to mention it is that I'm not someone
who is outside of or against Babels. Babels, like the SF itself is
quite diverse and pluralistic. I have been volunteering my services as
a translator since 2001-2 and as an interpreter since the ESF in
I have criticized certain things in Babels but continue to be a part
of it and hope to continue. To me it doesn't matter if I'm doing
something for money or out of principle, I want to do the best job
possible. Sometimes I feel that there are people who think that just
because we're volunteers, we don't necessarily have to do a good job.
I completely disagree.
Again, thank you for helping me articulate better, sometimes I talk
too much and forget to mention the key points.

Posts: 27
Joined: Tue Jan 03, 2006 8:39 pm

Re: Possible ethical issue: hiring... volunteers?!

Postby Jesús » Mon Feb 11, 2008 12:16 pm

Para mí, después de leer todos los comentarios que nos ofrece María y en particular la última respuesta de Robert, a quien conozco desde una reunión de Babels en Bruselas hace más de tres años, creo, y aprecio mucho, la cosa es sencilla. Si se agotaron todas las vías posibles para que la interpretación se hiciera con intérpretes voluntarios y, a ser posible, equipos técnicos alternativos, y si se tuvo la certeza de que de este modo el coste era superior (por ausencia de voluntarios locales y porque el precio del viaje y los transportes superaba el coste del pago a profesionales locales o el del alquiler de equipos técnicos locales), entonces y sólo entonces sería admisible que se derivara el requerimiento a una empresa privada. Pero hay algo que aún no me queda claro. Cuando el gobierno del estado pidió presupuesto a la empresa de Robert, ¿se le dijo primero que al ser una reunión del proceso FSM era con Babels con quien había que contactar primero y agotar las posibilidades de trabajar con la red voluntaria y en las condiciones habituales o bien se mandó (por parte de la empresa de Robert) ese presupuesto sin hablar con el gobierno de la conveniencia de que Babels se ocupara y sin consultar a la red sobre la viabilidad del proyecto? Si se hizo lo segundo que indico, claramente sí se ha infringido la Carta de Babels y sí creo que estamos ante un conflicto ético, que por cierto no es la primera vez que se plantea: el de usar la red Babels y los contactos que en ella se adquieren para ganar clientes en una actividad privada. Esto ya es éticamente dudoso en otros contextos, pero es completamente inaceptable, en mi opinión, si se trata de una reunión del proceso de los Foros Sociales. Y este es un debate que, efectivamente, no tiene nada que ver con el de la calidad o el de los profesionales en el voluntariado. Eso sólo se plantea una vez que se respetan los principios que nos hemos dado. Por lo demás, yo también doy fe de que los equipos de Alis funcionan perfectamente: los he visto en acción en Atenas (FSE 2006) y por dos veces en Granada (abril y noviembre de 2007). Por lo demás nadie pagó alquiler por esos equipos en las dos últimas ocasiones. Simplemente para Ecos la cuestión de cobrar cuando la situación encajaba en lo que entendemos por voluntariado no se plantea. Y si no encaja, pedimos al 'cliente' que contacte con una empresa.
Jesús (Ecos/Babels, Granada, España)

Pour moi, après avoir lu tous les commentaires postés par María et notamment la dernière réponse de Robert, que j'ai connais depuis une réunion Babels à Bruxelles il y a plus de trois ans, je crois, et que j'apprécie énormément, la chose est simple. Si toutes les voies possibles permettant une interprétation bénévole et, si possible, utilisant des équipements techniques alternatifs ont été explorées et épuisées et si on a eu par la suite la certitude que cette voie représentait un surcoût (vu l'absence de bénévoles locaux et le prix supérieur des voyages et du fret par rapport aux interprètes et équipements locaux) alors et uniquement alors il serait admissible de faire appel à une entreprise privée. Mais il reste un doute: lorsque le gouvernement de l'état a demandé un budget à la compagnie de Robert, est-ce qu'on leur a prévenu d'abord que puisqu'il s'agissait d'une réunion du processus FSM c'était Babels qu'il fallait contacter en priorité et qu'il fallait explorer toute possibilité de travailler avec le réseau bénévole selons les conditions habituelles ou bien est-ce que la compagnie de Robert a envoyé ce budget sans dire au gouvernement qu'il fallait contacter Babels et sans consulter le réseau à propos de la faisabilité d'un tel projet? Si la deuxième hypothèse est vraie il est clair que la Charte Babels a été bafouée et que nous sommes bien devant un conflit éthique qui d'ailleurs n'est pas nouveau: celui d'utiliser le réseau Babels et les contacts que l'on fait à travers lui pour gagner des clients pour une activité privée. Si cela est pose déjà des problèmes éthiques dans d'autres contextes, c'est complètement inacceptable lorsqu'il s'agit d'une réunion du processus des forums sociaux. Et c'est un débat qui, en effet, n'a rien à voir avec celui de la qualité ou des professionnels dans le bénévolat. Cela vient bien après le respect des principes que nous nous sommes donnés. Pour le reste, je peux également témoigner du bon fonctionnement des équipements ALIS. Je les ai vus en action à Athènes (FSE 2006) et à deux reprises à Grenade: avril 2007 et novembre 2007. D'ailleurs personne n'a jamais payé de loyer pour ces équipements dans les deux derniers cas. Tout simplement la question d'être payés ne se pose pas pour Ecos dès que le travail rentre dans notre concept du bénévolat. Et s'il ne rentre pas, nous demandons au 'client' de contacter une entreprise.
Jesús (Ecos/Babels, Granada, Espagne)

Maria Brander
Posts: 80
Joined: Wed Oct 20, 2004 7:08 pm

Re: Possible ethical issue: hiring... volunteers?!

Postby Maria Brander » Mon Feb 11, 2008 1:27 pm

EN (by Jesús de Manuel, very quick translation into English)

After having read all the comments offered by María above and, in particular, Robert's last reply (I have known Robert since I met him during a Babels meeting more than three years ago and think highly of him), I believe the matter is simple.

If all other possible means of making interpretation work by using volunteer interpreters failed, as well as the use of alternative equipment wherever possible, and it was clear that in this way the cost was superior (because of the absence of local volunteers and because the price for transport was higher than that of using professional locals, or the hiring of local equipment), then, and only then, it would be admissible to derive the request to a private business.

But there is something that remains unclear. When the government of the State asked for a quote, 1. were they told in the first place that, as it was a WSF-related meeting, it was Babels whom they should contact first, making sure it was in no way feasible to work by means of our volunteer network under the usual conditions? Or, 2. did Robert's business send that quote without telling the government it should be convenient that Babels took care of the issue, without consulting the Babels network first about the viability of the project?

If the second is true, then clearly, yes, the Babels Charter has been breached and, yes, I think we are looking at an ethical conflict.

By the way, this is not the first time we find ourselves before dilemmas such as the use of the Babels network and those contacts acquired by means of volunteer work for the enlargement of the number of clients in a private business. This is ethically questionable already in other contexts but, in my opinion, it is completely unacceptable in the case of the provision of interpretation for a meeting related to to Social Fora processes.

And this is a debate which, in effect, has nothing to do with that of quality or that of attracting more professionals into volunteer work. We can bring on that discussion only once the principles we all agree upon have been respected.

As for the rest, I also bear witness to the fact that the Alis equipment works perfectly: I have seen it "in action" in Athens (2006) and twice in Granada (April and November 2007). No-one was charged for the use of that equipment (bought by Ecos) on those two last occasions; simply, the question of charging people when the situation would fit into what we in Ecos understand as volunteer work did not arise at all. And, when it doesn't fit, we ask the client to contact a business.

Jesús (Ecos/Babels, Granada, Espagne)[/quote]
Last edited by Maria Brander on Mon Feb 11, 2008 9:20 pm, edited 1 time in total.

judith hitchman
Posts: 29
Joined: Mon Dec 01, 2003 10:02 am
Location: Tarbes, Pyrenees, France & Ireland

Re: Possible ethical issue: hiring... volunteers?!

Postby judith hitchman » Mon Feb 11, 2008 3:26 pm

Hello all,

I am not going to repeat any of the comments that have already been made, but I would like to point out one thing that is recurrent. Babels is part of a process (the WSF). We are part of a global, horizontal and frequently virtual network, as well as being a network ourselves.

One of the greatest (recurring) difficulties is communication, both internally and even more so with the other member networks/committees, the IC and organising committees. This is what most frequently leads/has led to problems, although everyone may be acting in good faith. If we are not informed of needs, and do not clearly communicate whatwe need to succeed, things will continue to go wrong.

This is why whenever there is a request for interpreting/ALIS or any other equipment etc we need to clearly ask ourselves "What do we need to be able to do a good job? Who needs to be informed of this need? Is this in accordance with the Babels Charter etc..." And make sure that all stakeholders have the same information.

Bonjour à tous et à toutes

Je ne vais pas répéter les commentaires qui ont déjà été faits, mais je souhaite mettre le doigt sur quelque chose qui est un aspect recurrent. Babels s'insère dans un processus (le FSM). Nous participons à un réseau mondial, horizontal et souvent virtuel, tout en étant nous mêmes un réseau.

Une des difficultés les plus importantes (et recurrentes) est la communication, en interne chez Babels, mais encore plus avec les autres membres du réseau/comités, le CI et comités d'organisation. Ceci est l'élément qui provoque/a provoqué les problèmes, même quand un chacun est de bonne foi. Si nous ne sommes pas informés des besoins et ne communiquons pas clairement ce dont nous avons besoin pour réussir, les choses tournent au vinaigre.

C'est pour cela que des lors que nous recevons une demande d'interpretation/ALIS ou toute autre équipement etc. nous devons clairement nous poser la question "De quoi avons-nous besoin pour faire un bon travail? Qui doit être informé de ce besoin? Est-ce en accord avec la Charte de Babels etc..." Et nous assurer que toutes es parties prenantes ont les mêmes informations.

In solidarity


Posts: 17
Joined: Mon Jun 13, 2005 7:09 pm

Re: Possible ethical issue: hiring... volunteers?!

Postby julieb » Mon Feb 11, 2008 4:37 pm

Hola compas,

La verdad es que para quien no está ni en la lista del FSA ni en la lista de los que se encargaron del proyecto de interpretación en el CI, es difícil seguir paso por paso lo que pasó (valga la redundancia:-).
Antes de opinar, me gustaría comprobar lo que sucedió. Intento resumir y espero que Robert y otros colegas que han seguido todo el asunto puedan corregir o confirmar:

1. El gobierno pide un presupuesto a la empresa de Robert para proporcionar los equipos de interpretación en el CI.

2. Robert envía un presupuesto pero en ningún momento pregunta al gobierno si el CI, que es parte del Proceso de los Foros Sociales, no debería recurrir a Babels y Alis, dos grupos voluntarios MIEMBROS del CI. Tampoco informa a Babels del asunto, dado que en aquel entonces estaba dado de baja en la base de datos. Transcurrido un tiempo, vuelve a tomar el contacto con Babels y dice en toda transparencia a la red, la cual ya tenía algún grupo encargado del proyecto del CI (selección de intérpretes en Brasil y preparación sobre intervenciones de Babels en las propias reuniones), que había enviado un presupuesto al gobierno para proporcionar de forma comercial los equipos. Incluso se habla de un proyecto de formación que Robert tiene diseñado para voluntarios y Robert se plantea si es más conveniente a nivel coste contratar a profesionales locales o recurrir a voluntarios de fuera.

3. Pero al final, nada de proyecto de formación, ni selección de intérpretes porque Robert nunca recibió respuesta del gobierno respecto de la contratación de sus servicios. Robert está en un congreso de una asociación mientras se celebra el CI.

4. a) Al fallar los equipos de ALIS (¿por qué fallaron si en Atenas y en Granada funcionaron de maravilla?), el CI llama a Robert para contratar sus servicios a última hora. O posibilidad b) el CI nunca tuvo intención alguna de recurrir a ALIS, por falta de confianza después del fallo de las radios en Nairobi, y a última hora (porque así es como suelen hacer las cosas) llamó a la empresa de Robert.

5. Robert acepta y alquila sus equipos. Babels por su lado, estaba presente en el CI como red de voluntarios, con sus voluntarios en cabina seleccionados por el grupo de trabajo de Babels encargado del CI de Belem.

¿Esto es lo que pasó?

Gracias por aclararme/nos


Posts: 17
Joined: Mon Jun 13, 2005 7:09 pm

Re: Possible ethical issue: hiring... volunteers?!

Postby julieb » Mon Feb 11, 2008 4:53 pm

English version

Hi guys,

To be honest, for those who are not on the ASF list or on the list of the IC-Babels project, it is difficult to figure out what happened. Before I can even give my position on the matter, I would like to be sure of what happened. I try to summarise below and I hope Robert and the other mates who have followed the matter can correct me or confirm:

1. The government ask for a presupuesto (bill?) to Robert's company to provide interpretation equipment to the IC for a meeting .

2. Robert sends a bill but never ask to the government whether the IC, which is part of the World Social Forum process, should resort to Babels and Alis, two volunteer groups that are MEMBERS of the IC. He doesn't inform Babels either given that at that time he had withdrawn from Babels. After some time, he gets in touch again with Babels and says in total transparence to the network (which already had one group in charge of the Babels-IC project: interpreters selection in Brasil and preparation of Babels' contributions in the meetings themselves), that he had sent a bill to the government to provide commercial equipment. Even a training project is being talked about, one that Robert have for volunteers and he wonders whether it is more convenient to hire local professional or to resort to volunteers from outside the area of Belem, as regards costs.

3. But finally, there is no training proyect, nor selection of interpreters because Robert never received an answer from the government in connection with the hiring of his services. Robert is in an association conference Robert while the IC is being old.

4. a) ALIS equipment, provided voluntarily to the IC failed and RObert's company was asked at the last minute to hire its booths to the IC. (why did ALIS failed? they worked really well in Athens and Granada). Or b option) the IC never had the intention of resorting to ALIS, by lack of trust after the failure of the radios in Nairobi, and at the last minute (because this is how things are handled most of the time) called Robert's company.

5. Robert accepts and hires his equipment. Babels is present at the IC as a volunteer network with volunteers in the booth selected by the Babels working group in charge of the IC project.

¿This is what happened?

Thanks for telling me


Maria Brander
Posts: 80
Joined: Wed Oct 20, 2004 7:08 pm

Re: Possible ethical issue: hiring... volunteers?!

Postby Maria Brander » Mon Feb 11, 2008 8:33 pm


EN- At this point, I'm not sure it's so much a question of who did what, but of what should we do if we find ourselves in a similar situation in the future.
ES- A estas alturas, quizás lo importante no sea quién hizo qué, sino lo que deberíamos hacer en el futuro si nos encontrásemos ante una situación parecida.

Os transmito la respuesta de Robert a Jesús.
Here is the reply from Robert to Jesús.

Mucho cariño.
All my love.


from Robert
date Feb 11, 2008 7:48 PM

Olá! Eu lembro bem de voce. Obrigado e saiba que penso o mesmo de ti.
Como eu lembro, eu disse para a pessoa do governo estadual que o FS
tinha um grupo de voluntarios militantes e equipamentos, Babels, mas
me pediram o orçamento mesmo assim. Ai nunca me deram retorno e eu
deixei por isso mesmo.
Eu realmente queria que o equipamento alternativo funcionasse, pois é
obvio que nao é algo utopico e tambem é uma necessidade pratica do
Foro. Eu tambem preciso comprar mais equipamento para o meu uso e nao
tenho condiçoes de pagar os centenas de milhares de dolares que cobram
por equipamento comercial. Como nao estava na epoca, nao sei o que
aconteceu. Talvez a Denise, Bettina ou alguem mais poderia comentar
Só para registrar (novamente):
Sou a favor de usar interpretes voluntarios. Sou contra fazer o que
fui mandado fazer contra a minha vontade enquanto coordenador de
seleçao de dois FSs e pagar passagens aereas carissimas para pessoas
que, segundo elas proprias, nao sao fluentes em duas linguas, muito
menos tem alguma habilidade/experiencia como interprete (e que em
certos casos nem compareceram nas reuniões).
Sou a favor de usar equipamento alternativo. Sou contra o que vi em
Quito onde Nomads enviou uma pessoa desde a India com a tarefa
herculeana de tentar treinar pessoal, montar e coordenar equipamento
alternativo sem tempo ou apoio suficiente. Ou em PoA onde metade das
cabines funcionavam metade do tempo. Sou contra fazer experiencias
DURANTE as reunioes dos FSs. Devemos realizar experiencias ENTRE
reunioes e ter tudo funcionando perfeitamente durante as reunioes.
Para fazer qualquer outra coisa, para mim, é antietica nao somente
porque disperdiça recursos escarços mas pior, deixe de cumprir a
missao de Babels de contribuir para a comunicaçao efetiva entre os
povos nas reunioes dos FSs.
Hi! I remember you well. Thank you and know I feel the same.
As I remember it, I told the person from the state government that the
FS had a group of activist volunteers and equipment, Babels, but they
asked me for a quote anyway. Then they never got back to me about the
quote and I left it at that.
I was really hoping that the alternative equipment would work, because
it is obviously not a utopia and is a practical necessity of the
Forums. I also need to purchase more equipment of my own and am unable
to pay the hundreds of thousands of dollars charged for commercial
equipment. As I wasn't there, I don't know what happened. Maybe
Denise, Bettina or someone else could comment on that?
Just for the record (again):
I am in favor of using volunteer interpreters. I am against doing what
I was overridden and told to do while a selection coordinator at two
SFs and pay expensive airfare for people who, by their own admission,
are not even fluent in two languages, much less have interpreting
skills/experience (and who sometimes didn't even show up at the
I am in favor of using alternative equipment. I am against what I saw
in Quito where Nomads sent one person from India with the Herculean
task of trying to train, set up and coordinate alternative equipment
with insufficient time, help, etc. Or in PoA where half the time half
the booths worked. I am against experimenting DURING the SF meetings.
We should experiment BETWEEN meetings and have everything working
perfectly during the meetings.
To do anything else to me is unethical because it not only wastes
precious funds but worse, it fails to fulfill Babel's mission of
contributing to successful communication among peoples at the SF

Posts: 17
Joined: Mon Jun 13, 2005 7:09 pm

Re: Possible ethical issue: hiring... volunteers?!

Postby julieb » Mon Feb 11, 2008 9:09 pm

Creo que demasiadas veces hemos pecado en Babels de juzgar sin tener suficiente información. Por esto me parece importante condensar en unas líneas que pasó. ¿Alguien puede contestar a mi previo mensaje arriba? Este es un foro electrónico y no todos los que lean este debate están en la lista de coordinación. Por lo que yo recomiendo volver a los hechos concretos, para que los demás de la red podamos opinar en condiciones y aportar algo constructivo al debate.
un abrazo

Maria Brander
Posts: 80
Joined: Wed Oct 20, 2004 7:08 pm

Re: Possible ethical issue: hiring... volunteers?!

Postby Maria Brander » Mon Feb 11, 2008 10:46 pm

I'm afraid you're absolutely right, Julie, however sad all this may be, we should know about it. Silencing these things is not good- it snowballs.

But I don't think we are judging anyone here, and I'm sure it's not too late to sit and talk so that it doesn't happen again. In fact, there's NO OTHER WAY OUT of this but to start BELIEVING again in one another, in Babels and in Another World Possible.

Perhaps we have to work on a set of rules specifying what to do when asked for a quote. Or, as you said, make sure (how?) that ALIS is taken into account as a participant, or design a way to have coordinators rotating somehow (experienced people with younger ones, as Judith, I think, proposed a long time ago).

I encourage from here everyone to say the truth as they feel it in a corteous way, please, following the netiquette.

As Julie quoted to me today "Recuerda lo que dice Marcos: Caminamos lento porque vamos muy lejos" ("Remember what Marcos said: We march slowly because we're going far").

The path being full of shit was the downfall.

The uplift is that, if we keep walking, perhaps there will come a time when we can't smell it anymore.

In solidarity,


Me temo que tienes toda la razón, Julie; por muy triste que sea todo esto, deberíamos saberlo. Callarse estas cosas no es bueno, va en aumento.

Pero no creo que estemos juzgando a nadie, y estoy segura de que no es demasiado tarde para sentarse y hablar para que no vuelva a ocurrir. De hecho, NO HAY OTRA SALIDA de esta situación que no sea CREER de nuevo los unos en los otros, en Babels y en Otro Mundo Posible.

Quizás haya que confeccionar unas reglas especificando qué hacer cuando alguien te pide presupuesto. O, como dijiste, asegurarse (¿cómo?) de que se tome en cuenta a ALIS como participante, o diseñar una manera mediante la cual los coordinadores rotasen de alguna manera (como dijo Judith hace bastante, poner a gente con experiencia con gente joven).

Insto a todo el mundo a decir la verdad en este Foro, tal y como la sienta, pero de manera cortés, y siguiendo la netiqueta.

Como me dijo hoy Julie "Recuerda lo que dice Marcos: Caminamos lento porque vamos muy lejos".

Hemos resbalado porque había mierda en el camino.

Pero yergue pensar que, si seguimos adelante, quizás llegue un momento en el que ya no podamos olerla.

En solidaridad,

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