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Best Practices voor een duurzame toekomst
18 januari 2009

Offshoring IT: a golden opportunity for developing countries?

The rise of internet and outsourcing have clearly boosted the economies of Asia and Africa. The new technologies have created job opportunities and brought economic prosperity, while increased access to international networks and markets has stimulated innovation, knowledge and creativity. But how ethical is it for western companies to offshore their ICT-work to developing countries where wages are low and labour conditions poor? Dutchman Paul Tjia of GPI Consultancy, one of the few Dutch specialists in the field of offshore IT sourcing has no qualms on this score: it is perfectly ethical, he says. Tjia was a keynote speaker at a symposium in Amsterdam about sustainable benefiting from the ICT-boom, an event organised by Fill the Gap.

Tjia has no objection to people working for pennies. “It is impossible to alleviate poverty with gifts from generous donors, you have to put people to work. Those jobs attract new work and jobs. A whole new knowledge infrastructure arises that educates new people for the IT-sector. That generates new employment, for example in education.” In his view “it is a bit strange” that development organizations show little interest in developing opportunities of outsourcing.

According to David Barnard, another speaker at the Amsterdam event, NGOs could play a role as broker between western companies and developing countries. Barnard is manager of Sangonet, a successful not-for-profit company in the field of ICT and development. He sees an important role for governments in developing countries. “Often they are very unreliable and they make insufficient laws and rules, as a result of which companies do not dare to make the step.” He is no “IT-believer”. “The internet is especially of significance for people in urban areas, knowing the possibilities of the internet.” For many people it is not natural to deal with it. “Education is therefore as important as realizing more and better access to the internet.”

Tjia is not scared of tackling controversial topics. In October 2008 he led a Dutch trade delegation to Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea. The mission was heavily criticised for doing business with a failed state. In the Dutch newspaper the Volkskrant Tjia defended the action with the argument that a discussion about human rights was imperative. In his view, trade is needed to catalyze the growth of a middle class. “This is exactly the path China has gone. Twenty years ago, trade with a country that violates human rights was not done. See how much opener China is today. (...) Decades of isolation have only strengthened the grip of the North Korean leadership.”

Partly based on an article on

P+ webtip: GPIC