Nearshore Americas

Breakdown: Teleperformance’s Global Union Agreement, a Year Later

It’s been over a year since Teleperformance signed a major agreement with union federation UNI Global Union. The document has yet to show its impact, but it promises to define the path of how global service providers handle worker’s rights and interact with organized workforces.

Labor rights issues have gathered momentum in the public eye over the past couple years. Teleperformance itself was hit by an explosive industry exposés in 2022 involving TikTok content moderators in Colombia.

Overview: The three-year pact (signed on December 1, 2022) aims to “achieve [Teleperformance’s] business and financial objectives while helping ensure that employee and union rights are respected throughout [Teleperformance],” as stated in the document itself. 

  • Teleperformance agreed to comply with basic international and national labor standards, as well as with non-discrimination provisions, and to open its doors to union representatives. It also agreed to be transparent on how and when it surveils employee activities.
  • UNI committed to work with union representatives to avoid disrupting Teleperformance’s business operations or affect the company’s reputation whenever a labor dispute emerges.
  • If a problem arises, both parties agreed to follow a dispute resolution process which pretends to solve issues in an amicable manner. 
  • Both parties will also work to promote health and safety provisions within the company and its subsidiaries. 

The quote: “[The TP-UNI agreement] is the first agreement of its kind in the global services sector, but it will not be the last,” Benjamin Parton, Head of Department at UNI’s ICTS Sector, told NSAM in a written interview. 

  • “The agreement’s provisions should be industry standards. It’s time for the rest of the sector to follow Teleperformance’s example, especially in terms of respect for freedom of association, health and safety and support for content moderators,” Parton added. “Since December 2022, we have had many discussions with a variety of stakeholders in the BPO industry, including employers, investors, unions and clients,” he added. 

Scope: The agreement is expected to cover all of Teleperformance’s employees, which amount currently to almost half a million spread throughout 95 countries. 

  • Nevertheless, its implementation is being limited for the moment to five countries: El Salvador, Colombia, Jamaica, Romania and Poland. These countries gather 20% of Teleperformance’s global workforce.
  • “Implementing a global agreement takes time and resources, and so to start, we agreed with Teleperformance on priority countries that would allow us to develop a model we could scale,” Parton explained.
  • UNI and Teleperformance are currently discussing which countries will come next, he assured.

Avoiding strikes: One of the more relevant provisions in the agreement is the multi-stepped dispute resolution process, which will ultimately help Teleperformance avert strikes. The procedure won’t apply to issues related directly or indirectly to collective bargaining agreements, though. 

  • “Strikes and other labor disputes happen when there are no other options to resolve them. The agreement provides a binding dispute resolution process that we hope will allow unions to settle outstanding issues without escalation,” Benjamin Parton explained. 

How it works: As stated in the agreement, if a labor complaint arises, it will be taken initially to local Teleperformance management by a recognized union representative. If there’s no union representation, the issue will be communicated by a UNI representative.

  • If local management is unable to solve the issue, it goes to a country manager.
  • If the latter step fails, the issue is taken directly to UNI, which will contact a Teleperformance appointee, who will in turn contact “the responsible member of management”, who will try to solve the issue.
  • If this step fails, the problem will be passed to members of the Review Meeting, an official body constituted by two UNI or union representatives and two Teleperformance representatives. 
  • If the Review Meeting fails to end the dispute, the parties involved can look for a neutral mediator. If that fails also, they can seek “final and binding resolution” via arbitration. 

Guarding a reputation: UNI agreed not to disseminate “disparaging and/or perjudicial information” about Teleperformance or its subsidiaries related to union or employment issues without informing the company beforehand, allowing it to provide an adequate response and, if possible, resolve the issue at hand. 

  • The same provision applies for legal actions related to labor issues. In such cases, UNI will grant Teleperformance “a reasonable period of time to resolve the dispute” before any legal action is taken. 
  • The organization also agreed to take down “without delay” any negative news about Teleperformance on its website, as well as ensuring that “its campaigns and actions shall include strategies to ensure that Teleperformance SE remains competitive within its specific market.”
  • All of these stipulations apply to UNI, though not necessarily to affiliated union members or to Teleperformance workers in general.

Some background: The agreement was signed less than two months after TIME Magazine published an article exposing alleged health and safety violations suffered by Colombian Teleperformance employees doing content moderation for TikTok.

  • The investigation launched a probe by Colombia’s Labor Ministry into Teleperformance’s operations in the country.
  • The Ministry found no evidence of the sorts of health and safety concerns raised by the article, arguing that the company has a host of programs and mechanisms built to avoid such situations, according to a Ministry document obtained by NSAM. 

NSAM’s Take: UNI and Teleperformance have sold their agreement as a game changer for the BPO sector, but it will be a while before its impact is truly felt. Implementation in a wider territory is required, as well as having other major service providers striking similar deals.

Even then, the significance of the UNI-TP agreement cannot be underestimated. Although labor disputes have remained a relatively minor issue for global service providers, labor rights are gaining traction as a topic in media and the public’s perception

If service providers pretend to improve worker retention, they will have to deal with the rougher edges of long-term employment relationships, which include the possibility of workforce organization and labor disputes. 

Not everything is sour grapes for the business side of the equation, though. In exchange for union access and the promise of respect for labor standards, Teleperformance made UNI a partner in its fight against bad PR. 

If other major market players manage to strike similar deals with either UNI or other worker organizations, it will be a win for the global services sector amid the rising threat of media firestorms. 

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The most interesting reactions to the agreement will come from the buy-side. There’s a tension between clients’ expectations for compliance in labor standards (which include the right to unionization) and their wish to keep business operations running smoothly. The UNI-TP agreement seems to satisfy both concerns, at least on paper.

It will be a matter of waiting to see if the deal works as intended for all the parties involved (workers, Teleperformance and company clients). As it stands, we don’t see the agreement working as an impenetrable shield for Teleperformance against labor disputes and media scandals, but it does look like it will allow the company to navigate those minefields with less difficulty. If that turns out to be the case, more market players will for sure want to jump into a similar boat.

Cesar Cantu

Cesar is the Managing Editor of Nearshore Americas. He's a journalist based in Mexico City, with experience covering foreign trade policy, agribusiness and the food industry in Mexico and Latin America.

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