Ethical translation: What is it and why does it matter for you and your clients?

Localisation through translation is the service we provide. But it’s what goes on behind the scenes to provide that service, and how our service is ultimately used, that makes it ethical or unethical.

The role of ethics in the localisation and translation industry is critically important. As an agency looking to outsource to a localisation partner you want to ensure that they can assist your clients to sensitively break into new European markets.


So what does it mean to be an ethical partner?

There are many elements that go into providing ethical localisation services. Here are just a few aspects that we consider:

  • paying fair wages to our employees
  • paying sustainable rates to our freelance linguists
  • creating an environment where everyone is treated with respect
  • creating an inclusive environment that offers equal opportunities to everyone
  • being honest and transparent about our work
  • providing expertise to ensure sensitivity to cultural misunderstandings


“Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no-one is watching.”
– C.S. Lewis


Essentially, being ethical is more than just abiding by the law. Being ethical is a commitment to do what’s morally right – for our team, for our customers, for our community and for our planet.

Sometimes, ethical choices aren’t financially advantageous. For example, there are certain projects we refuse to work on. This might be because the customer’s budget is so low we would be forced to pay unsustainable rates to our linguists, which we feel would be unethical.

We might also refuse to work on projects in industries that don’t align with our personal views (in our case gambling and horse racing to name just a couple of  real-life examples). As a certified B Corporation we only work with purpose-driven businesses where sustainable practices are at the core of what they do.

This is why being ethical is closely linked to balancing profit and purpose in our business. We are committed to balancing profit and purpose in our company, so much so, it’s at the very core of our company’s constitution (or our Articles of Association, to give it its legal name).


Why should ethics matter to you?

As business expands globally, budgets can be stretched thin, so it can be tempting to focus first on how to obtain the best work for the best price for your clients. However, mitigating the risk of getting something wrong in the work should be factored into your decision.

Your localisation or translation partner is hired to interpret your client’s message in a way that considers delicate situations, understands cultural nuances, and avoids potentially offensive connotations.

However, when looking to localise your client’s communication for a new European market, identifying ethical providers can be challenging, especially since no-one really seems to talk a great deal about ethics in localisation or translation.

Here are some great questions to ask your potential partner:

  • How are linguists vetted?
  • How are projects assigned within the team?
  • Are pricing standards commensurate with experience?
  • Are pricing standards in compliance with local laws and living wage parameters?
  • How are new experts onboarded?
  • What is your quality assurance process?
  • Are your linguists in-house or external freelancers?


Why do ethics matter when localising your communication?

Building an ethical, sustainable supply chain doesn’t just apply to products and manufacturing anymore. It applies to professional services as well, including localisation through the use of translation services. Whether it’s reducing impact on the environment or improving diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), businesses are working hard to improve their social and environmental performance. And so, choosing the right kind of localisation provider – one which shares the same values and beliefs – is becoming ever more important.

For us it’s quite simple: we want to see our personal values reflected in our workplace. After all, that’s where we spend a significant amount of our waking hours. We’re in business because we love language, and we believe language is innately human and paramount to how we exist. Profit is of course important for every business, but it’s not our biggest driver.

When all is said and done, we want to make a positive impact on this world, and that absolutely starts with our human-first approach to our work, and to ensure that everyone around us – our colleagues, our freelancers and our customers – are treated fairly and with respect.

We’ve always prided ourselves on being an ethical localisation company with a focus on creating exciting opportunities for the next generation of translators to enter our industry in a safe and collaborative way. There is always more that can be done, of course, and we are looking to continually improve our social and environmental performance over the coming years.

Transparency is key to any good working relationship, so don’t be afraid to ask questions. You might find this article about how to choose the right translation provider for your business  helpful when it comes to assessing localisation companies.


Looking for an ethical partner? Why not get in touch with one of our friendly team, and they can answer any questions you may have. Get in touch today.

This article was first published on 6th September 2022 and has since been updated for accuracy.