An email and website www.outsourceful.co.uk for Outsourceful, a recruitment agency, was seen on 11 August 2023:
a. The email, which was from Property Industry Eye, a residential property industry news outlet, for Outsourceful stated “if your employees can work remotely, why pay £20ph in the UK when you could pay £5ph using us! we make it cost £5 per hour for one who speaks English perfectly… hire someone who won’t call in sick on Monday morning… one who will give 110% effort. Outsourceful hiring: 1. let us know the job role 2. we find the perfect remote fulltime employee 3. they cost you £950 per month for a 40 hour week We provide outsourced employees for your estate or lettings agency. We hire predominantly in the Philippines as they speak with an American-like accent, they are extremely hard working and very service oriented. They’ll work your UK hours, and will be more dedicated to your team than your UK workers. If you’ve got an admin role going, or you need a client accountant, or someone to just chase those bloody CP12s, or need simply a social media manager. These roles usually cost £950-1150 a month all in, that includes salary, taxes, literally everything. […] One agency has now saved £66k per year on salaries.” At the bottom of the email were photos of three Filipino women and their employment profiles beneath the heading “Meet some of our recent employees”.
b. The website www.outsourceful.co.uk included a page which stated “Lettings & Estate Agent employees from £950 p/m”. The page included a "Cost Comparison" between the UK and the Philippines. Underneath "United Kingdom" text stated "£20.10 p/h" and listed alongside question marks "18.05% Employer Taxes", "28 Days Holiday", "Strict Employment Laws", "High Staff Turnover" and "Low Productivity". Underneath "Philippines" text stated "£5 p/h" and listed alongside tick marks "10% employer taxes", "10 days holiday", "Very Hardworking", "Service Orientated", "Native English Speakers". Text underneath the comparison stated “Hire 2 Employees for the price of 1 UK person”. The page included the same employment profiles from three Filipino women as ad (a). Under the section headed “They can…” text included “100% fluent in English with American-like dialects” and “Hard-working and diligent and no need to micromanage”. At the bottom of the page was a “FAQ” section. In response to the question “Proficient in English?”, text stated “Yes, we only recruit employees fully proficient in spoken and written English. In the Philippines, people have an American-like accent, and are extremely service oriented and your customers will not think they’re being scammed”.
The complainant, who believed the ads perpetuated negative racial stereotypes, challenged whether they were harmful and likely to cause serious offence.
In relation to ad (a), Outsourceful Ltd said the claim that they “make it cost £5 per hour for one who speaks English perfectly…” was factually correct; all their employees spoke English perfectly. In relation to the claim that potential employers could “hire someone who won’t call in sick on Monday morning”, if one of their remote employees called in sick, they provided a replacement person immediately, who was equally qualified.
With regard to the “Cost Comparison” between the UK and the Philippines in ad (b), they said they had data to support the claims made about high staff turnover and low productivity in the UK from credible external sources. It was true that the UK had stricter employment laws than the Philippines. Their employees were very hard working, service orientated and spoke English natively.
Notwithstanding their defence of the ads, they said they had made extensive changes to their website to address the concerns raised, and that they would not use the email ad (a), or similar emails again.
Property Industry Eye Ltd said that they were paid by Outsourceful to send the email (ad (a)) to their database of subscribers. Outsourceful provided the content for the email which was clearly prefaced by the words “An offer from a client”. Property Industry Eye had no editorial control over the content of the email. They checked the email content prior to sending for unsuitable or inappropriate content and found there to be none. They did not receive any complaints from their subscribers.
The CAP code required marketers to ensure that ads were prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society, and did not contain anything that was likely to cause serious or widespread offence, with particular care to be taken to avoid causing offence on grounds of various protected characteristics, including race. CAP Advertising Guidance on avoiding racial and ethnic stereotypes likely to cause harm or serious or widespread offence, stated that even racial or ethnic stereotypes that may be seen as complimentary (for example, being intelligent, hard-working, strong or athletic), also had the potential to contribute to the generalisation of vastly diverse groups, and reinforce or promote limiting beliefs about that particular group or others, and therefore to cause harm.
We understood that there was a stereotype that Asian people were hard workers and self-sufficient. We also understood that Filipino people frequently migrated for work abroad. In the UK in 2022, people from the Philippines were the second largest group of foreign domestic workers by country issued with worker visas. Although the ads related to remote workers based in the Philippines, and not those who had migrated from the Philippines to the UK to work, we nonetheless considered there was a risk that ads that reinforced or promoted stereotypes regarding Filipino people’s work ethic, including a propensity not to take sickness absence, could be harmful to both groups and leave them open to exploitation.
The ads were for a recruitment company that sourced remote workers who were living in the Philippines and promoted them on the basis that they were significantly cheaper than UK workers, spoke English fluently, would not call in sick, were extremely hard working and service oriented, would work UK hours and be more dedicated than UK workers. Ad (b) also included a comparison with the UK, including that Filipino workers had fewer days of annual leave.
We sought a view on the ads from the Kanlungan Filipino Consortium, a charity representing Filipino and other migrant communities in the UK. Their view was that the ads used language which supported racial and ethnic stereotypes about Filipino workers. They considered that such stereotypes might influence UK companies to recruit Filipino and other East and Southeast Asian migrants on low wages, which could increase cases of labour exploitation and trafficking amongst Filipino workers, both in the Philippines and abroad.
We considered that the claims in ad (a) “hire someone who won’t call in sick on a Monday morning” and “one who will give 110% effort” played on existing stereotypes of Asian people being hard workers, which could reinforce harmful stereotypes, and leave them open to exploitation by employers. We further considered that the description in ad (a) of people from the Philippines as “Very Hardworking” and “Service Oriented”, and the claim in ad (b) that “In the Philippines, people have an American-like accent, and are extremely service oriented” generalised about people from the Philippines, a diverse population, in a way which was likely to perpetuate harmful stereotypes. We further considered that the text underneath the comparison which stated “Hire 2 Employees for the price of 1 UK person” promoted a harmful stereotype of workers from the Philippines offering cheap, commoditised labour.
On that basis we concluded that the ads had not been prepared in a socially responsible way because they promoted harmful racial stereotypes and that they were also likely to cause serious offence to some people.
The ads breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 1.3 (Social Responsibility) and 4.1 (Harm and offence).
The ads must not appear again in the form complained of. We told Outsourceful Ltd to ensure that they avoided causing harm or serious offence, particularly on the grounds of race.