From 1784 to 1788, in the years after the end of the Revolutionary War in America, leaders of the revolution, with only state governments to live by at this point, began to feel that the dream of liberty may never be fully grown on the land of America without forming “A more perfect union.” Throughout 1788 until 1789, they drafted, debated, conferenced, and ultimately agreed on a representative republican model of governance. Of course, that agreement they created and ultimately gifted to us was the U.S. Constitution, an imperfect yet durable model of governance that has been copied the world over.
There was so much to do in the original document. Legislative, executive and judiciary — the three branches of government that would build the foundation for the most powerful government on earth (depending on whom you ask) and would birth a nation that has done both great good and great harm to the world at large.
The constitution did a good job of enumerating the workings of governments and citizens’ rights in government. James Madison, however, felt that it severely lacked three things. First, it didn’t expound on the rights of the citizens, against the government or their fellow citizens, or the idea of individual freedoms and protections. Second, the limitations of government power against the citizenry were not more clearly enumerated. Third, and possibly, most important to Madison as a Democratic-Republican, early definitions of states vs. federal rights were not included. Madison knew these were glaring omissions, completely at odds with the guaranteed pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. And so, the Bill of Rights was created to fix that.
Those 10 simple rights, maybe more than anything, make America the envy of so many people around the world. The personal freedoms of its citizens and the limitations on government power, no matter what people think of the current state of American democracy, eliminated all ambiguity about people’s rights (except for African Americans, regrettably) under the new government, when absolute monarchy was still governing large populations of people.
This seems commonplace now, but in a time of widespread global slavery, guaranteeing rights to people was the height of humanist thinking. It’s a bold statement that posed a grave risk for a young republic to take on the international stage.
Before creating the Agent Bill of Rights (ABOR) for Rethink — Fair Trade outsourcing, I asked many questions of myself. Why a “Bill of Rights”? Why are these rights needed? Is it pompous of me to think that a call center needs these fundamental rights enumerated?
Am I creating a business that delivers wages to employees and value to clients, or am I seeking to be the king of my own little society? Is a call center job such an important actor in our employees’ lives that it would need such a strong theoretical foundation?
People can come to work, do their jobs, and leave. Why do they need “rights” to accompany them?
I wrote the ABOR out of anger following the events of 2016 in my call center, where several forms of exploitation were running rampant, between the managers I hired, and my Agents. Those events deeply offended my humanist beliefs, my sense of social justice, but ultimately embarrassed me. We are often driven to action by the need to correct our reality against our self-perception. Put simply, I looked around at my business and was ashamed at what I saw.
Unless the firm self-regulates itself in relationship to its agents, exploitation is an inevitable result of the way our industry is currently structured and functioning. The ABOR is one key tool we use to correct that.
At the suggestion of our senior writer/culture warrior Claire Ponsaran, today I embark upon a series where I explain the why of the ABOR and what we expect in our business from each enumerated right.
Each right was borne out of the personal experiences of our Agents, as they explained to me, what their daily lives were like in other call centers and the difficulties they faced. In each, I will tell you a story of an Agent experience, and show why, unless the firm self-regulates itself in relationship to its agents, exploitation is an inevitable result of the way our industry is currently structured and functioning. The ABOR is one key tool we use to correct that.
Why does the ABOR exist? There are many reasons. So as I begin to explain the why of the individual rights, let’s first understand the specific reasons why the ABOR was created:
- Give how dangerous other call centers are in the developing world, we had to have a framework for protecting people that company leadership and ownership was willing to uphold, that could not be done without being very specific, and very public about these rights.
- Agents had no easy way to understand the rights they actually have under laws in the Philippines. And other call centers, where they had worked, often hid these rights from them; they needed something easy and digestible and omnipresent.
- Besides a mission and vision, in a business that is all about people, people must know the rules that govern everyone’s behavior; those rules must not be capricious or arbitrary but must have meaning and make sense in the context of everyone’s daily lives.
- If we wanted to grow our business in a way we could be proud of, we had to have a set of founding rules that could grow as the number of people in the company grew.
- The ABOR exists because I, Mike Dershowitz, could not be in all of my call centers all the time to protect Agents. And I could not, in good conscience, continue in the outsourcing business without knowing that my Agents would be protected. I had to have something to hold my agents (and managers) accountable.
If you’re in the call center industry, or in any company, I encourage you to read these rights and understand how they would apply to your company.
You may not be a call center company, but you are a people company. By definition, a corporation is a cooperative arrangement between people — and people are essential to any business.
While these rights may not specifically apply to your business, there are ideas in the ABOR that are themselves inspired by sound management principles, and I encourage you to take away what you will as you improve your own culture and work environment.
In detail, here are the 10 ABORs we developed for our agents:
Here’s the ABOR card we give to all agents: