I was interested to read an article recently about a BPO organisation that has employed prisoners to conduct data management tasks on behalf of global clients. 250 ‘convicts’ are to work on the Indian prison site, earning the equivalent of £80 per month, processing and transmitting data for mostly government, insurance and banking clients. The same company reportedly operates services for RBS and even M&S.
It did get me thinking. Whilst I do recognise that this kind of experience for prisoners can be invaluable when they are released, especially as many are reported to be well educated, it created the question in my mind as to whether this was simply a way for companies to cut the cost of outsourcing and offshoring even more. The plan is expected to be rolled out further if this trial is a success.
Predictions are that the offshoring (and outsourcing) trend is expected to rise, with many public and private organisations eyeing the opportunity to make much needed savings. Economies that have come out of the worst of any financial crisis are also those holding some of the greatest offshore opportunities, like India. With great educational standards, and now vast outsourcing and offshoring experience, they have a great platform. But organisations also have to consider the bad press in recent years over the quality of service and, for example, that the British consumer likes to believe they are talking to someone in Britain – something to do with media hype I’m sure – but also some fears over communication errors and security. A MINTEL survey showed that 74% of consumers in the UK had fears about the handling of their data outside of the UK. I’m sure that the idea of prisoners processing and handling their personal and financial data won’t do much to calm any negative perception over security – even in the UK.
However, there remains the argument that this setup provides a new opportunity for work experience to those serving prison sentences. A similar scheme in Austria launched in 2008 to much protest. Fears over security were raised, but there are no reports of any real security issues. In that case, there may well be an opportunity for the UKs outsourcing companies to jump on a similar wagon, keeping the work in the UK, supporting prisoners to reduce re-offending and cutting the cost of their operations.
So how do you really feel about employing prisoners to conduct this kind of work? Is this the new alternative to the traditional practical lessons and further education in prisons? Are organisations at risk of exploiting cheap labour in a new way? And as a consumer, would you feel any different that your personal data was being processed by a serving prisoner – never mind sent offshore?
I look forward to reading your views and comments.