For startup entrepreneurs, there is far more money going out than coming in. It is a balancing act. Determining where and how you will spend your money and how you will try and save it. Which leads me to the question of, dare I say it, the morality of using unpaid interns or hiring overseas help.

Author Ellen Ruppel Shell’s, book “Cheap, The High Cost of Discount Culture” investigated who pays the price for low cost goods available to westerners. A bargain for us could mean a laborer in another country working a 16-hour day. We know about sweat shops and most of us would say we abhor them. Although whether our actions follow our words is another thing. It takes effort to discover goods produced in line with our home-country demands of equitable wages and working conditions.

Labour, disconnected values?

These days, consumers are not only looking for deals with goods, but business is also looking for ways to reduce the bottom line from their labour costs. Hence the emergence of unpaid interns and hiring remote labour at a fraction of the cost.

And for me, this is the dilemma. The difference between what we say is important and the actions that follow them.

I look back to my parenting days when I needed to hire child care while running a different business. Usually the child care was only a few hours here and there. But when I needed it, the bottom line would have benefited from paying the least amount of money. However, I really did want the best for my children. I wanted engaged and interested caregivers. And, I also wanted the caregivers to know that the pay was reflective of what I expected from them and of their value.

Money talks and I wanted to be sure that what I was paying followed what I was saying.

I know my way of thinking is not the norm. Especially when I witness couples with 6 figure incomes complaining about the cost of the care for their children. I am puzzled by the value gap of precious children and bottom line thinking. That somehow even minimum wage is too much for the person entrusted with the physical and mental health of their child. It could be thinking left over from the generations of women managing children, home and the daily demands of family.

Or it could be a fixed mindset, accepting that this is the way it has always been.

I digress.

Entrepreneurs. Whose Risk? Whose Reward?

As entrepreneurs, who assume all the risk and rewards of our endeavours, it is reasonable that we would look for ways to increase the rewards and minimize the risk. Running out of money is a risk, especially in the early years. The question though, is on whose backs are we willing to offset the risk?

From using services like 99designs, to Fiverr we are asking for the lowest bids for our creative projects. I don’t know how well these designers do, what their bottom line is. Are they making enough money to have a lifestyle that supports more than their needs? Do they get to have some wants, too? Or, are they scrambling like many of our unpaid interns and freelancers? Just trying to make it work and hoping they can make rent.

And ah yes, unpaid interns, caught in a time warp. The days when those accepting that position did so with confidence the result would be a job. These days, it’s more a desperate means of trying to gain entry to a field you have already invested much time and money. And, from what I’m hearing, over and over, more likely a term in which your payoff is something else to add to the resume.

Instead of your efforts and acquired company knowledge seen as a boon to the organization, you’re viewed as replaceable. There will always be someone else willing to do what it takes to try and make a go of it. Instead of intern, perhaps we might just as well call it for what it is. Volunteering.

Globalization and Salary Parity. Five Finger Discount?

Many entrepreneurs are now turning to virtual assistants, often from the Philippines. The average gross salary as reported from for an administrative assistant is US$ 3,611. Yes, that’s the gross amount. And that’s what troubles me.

When I hear of entrepreneurs grossing six and seven figures, I have a difficult time with a five- figure salary count. Almost sounds like the “five finger discount”, (slang for stealing). My moral dilemma, I don’t know what else to call it, is the idea that entrepreneurs who go on to success and live the dream, aren’t substantially increasing the outcomes of their overseas employees. At least as far as I know.

I understand we live in a global world. That it’s competitive and we need to find ways to increase the bottom line. But do we really need to do it on the backs of others? Must we continue to perpetuate the myth of low cost labour being the best way to cut costs?

Complex Questions Benefit From Multiple Perspectives

There are other sides to this argument, it’s what makes it so complex. I realize that just because you don’t hire them doesn’t mean someone else won’t. It could even be said, that those foreign workers we hire are living a higher standard of life. They have parlayed their skills globally and are enjoying the benefits.

Daniel Pink’s book, A Whole New Mind, argues that outsourcing is one of the smart ways to getting ahead. Recognizing where others can do the work that frees you up to do that which only you can do. I don’t disagree. It’s just that if we get to that point, let’s engage our values into the decision making process.

Globalization is trotted out for everything from economics to politics to social media, I think we also need to include it from an entrepreneurial stand point. We are all indeed connected. What if the ripple in the pond is one person choosing to pay someone else the going rate of the employer’s country? Could this be the difference maker in shifting the global inequities?

This is not about “(insert country) first” practices. It is about valuing the efforts of the people hired to do the jobs we need them to do. Whether it is from our country of origin or another’s.

Individual Humanity, Not Religious Pretext is the Common Ground

Morality, and values aren’t something bandied about in the larger business context. Release the religious context, where we most often place those words, and begin from within a humanistic one. Because maybe, just maybe, it’s time to bring them back to the conversation.

If you have thoughts on this, please leave a reply. Perspective, insights and ideas are all welcome as I grapple with this individual question regarding a global reality.