Exporting teleservices

for social and labor inclusion in

Latin America and the Caribbean




Research team:
General Coordinator: Sonia Boiarov,

Scientific researchers: Naum Poliszuk, Cristina Rozo, Sergio Rodsevich, Clara Costamagna, Norberto Torrera

Consultants: Pablo Berretella, Sebastián Bruno, Paula Maciel, Cristina Otalora


CETELCO – Telework Center (Colombia),

RITLA Latin American Information Technology Network (Brazil),

ADDSAL (Costa Rica),

ICT Commission in Usuaria (Argentina)



Exporting teleservices for social and

labor inclusion in Latin America and the Caribbean




Theoretical framework and fundamentals


Services World Market


Services have become one of the fastest-growing sectors in world trade.


More and more these constitute the largest and most dynamic component in today’s economies, together with the fact that not only they are important for themselves but they have also become essential supplies for the production of most goods. It has been calculated that services represent three quarters of a typical product’s added value. This added value has been enhanced with the use of the computer and the Internet made available for labor.


It has been estimated that services will constitute 50% of world trade by the year 2020. This estimated progression will boost the proliferation of new job opportunities that cannot and should not be missed.


ICTs as facilitators for the “remotization” of services: Teleservices and  greater labor inclusion


The relocation of activities and the redistribution of world labor, as well as a clear consolidation of the Internet as a massive means of communication and creator of business opportunities, allow us to speak of the “remotization” of services, that is the provision of services without the need to physically transfer people.


The growth of the Call Center industry


The report “Telework in Latin America and the Caribbean[1]” analyzes the growth of this industry as well as inclusion within the general definition of telework. With the purpose of identifying the problems and benefits of the unusual “remotization” of call center operators, in the specific objective 3 we have done a fieldwork experience in a company, ABSA, Aguas Bonaerenses SA.


The poor statistics on teleservices


It is important to take into account that we found hardly any official statistics on Services Foreign Trade in the participating countries. Statistics that show data on the export of services are only represented by a global unspecific number. The lack of information in general was worsen by the fact that this study only focused on the services de WTO classifies as “1” and that correspond to “Cross-border Services”. These we set as framework for the services provided by teleworkers in particular.


General Objective and Specific Objectives


Questions that Etis-Lac seeks to answer


The general objective of the Etis-Lac research was to provide systemized information that cleared the way for microexporters wishing to offer their teleservices through telework in world markets, while creating new decent sources of work. Moreover, it has sought to provide information to those who will have to create future public policies that will be necessary to facilitate the task for these microexporters.


In order to fulfill the general objective, four specific objectives were set.


Through the development of specific objective 1 we sought to answer the question What teleservices can be offered from the region? And through the development of specific objective 2, the question Who could be interested in hiring teleservices from the region?

The question that many teleworkers make themselves when they have had to create their own job is without a doubt who do I sell to?

Could the remote provision of services through telework reduce workers migration driven by the lack of job opportunities?

By selecting these two specific objectives what was taken into account was the importance of finding new working opportunities without the need to leave the worker’s country of residence, while avoiding the social consequences of family and social separation or disruption.

Although this research allowed us to take a random sample of voluntarily given information by the respondents, we were able to examine some percentages and acknowledge what has been named “invisible exporters”, hard to locate but constituents of an important capital in our region.

With this research we have aimed at detecting the main services offered by these new invisible exporters so to match them with countries in demand for them.

The diversity of teleservices makes this way of working a massive profile that other exports do not have, allowing greater social and labor inclusion[2].

The objectives three and four, answer questions such as: Why aren’t call centers decentralized? And Are there any obstacles for small scale exports?

The results of this research allowed us to find the main obstacles to the delocalization of job positions such us telephone assistance and the current legal situation related to business transactions.



The results that gave answer to our questions:


1. What are the teleservices this region has to offer?

In order to assess what teleservices are can be offered it is important to analyze the profile of today’s teleworker, as much as his/her socio-demographic characteristics, knowledge, and working experience given that services that can be offered are closely related to these matters.


The profile of the current teleworker in the four countries, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Costa Rica does not differ. It is a professional presenting a high educational level, 34 to 39 years of age, that owns the tools to telework. The marital status does not appear to determine the choice of this way of working since that half of them are single and the other half are either married or in a relationship.


Most of them are men living in heavily populated urban areas[3], where the access to and the quality of information technologies are in a larger concentration.


Although the initiation of teleworkers in applying this way of working coincides with the arrival of the Internet in the year 1995 and with high levels of unemployment in the region and maybe the main motive that identifies it. It is remarkable that another similar number[4] of workers and students are thinking of developing their activities remotely in the future, even if unemployment levels have been declining.


It is also likely that due to this high level of unemployment that the majority developed as an autonomous teleworker, possessing his/her own technologies for teleworking, responsible for costs and today showing a wide over-four-year experience[5].


This highly-trained profile allows teleworkers to offer an extensive range of teleservices[6] within their own countries, but also abroad[7].


In this research we were able to build up a list of 53 different types of teleservices that are being offered from the four countries, among which those that can be found are related with information technologies; design, consulting, administration, translations, engineering, call center, research and development, and sales, the most common.


2. Who would we sell them to? Or who could be interested in teleservices from our region?


Results on the local and foreign companies’ intention to buy teleservices turned out to be quite encouraging.


Out of 350 companies that answered the survey, 5% currently hire teleservices in LAC, but 65% show an intention to buy teleservices in the following two years.


3. Could this way of working decrease emigration driven by the lack of opportunities?

This question is closely related to the next one. However, it matters to bare in mind that what is exported through the sale of teleservices is the knowledge of the citizens of one country while not implying the physical transfer of the service provider.


4. Does is produce sources of work?

The majority of autonomous teleworkers have to create their own jobs, but those who export are clearly the ones who have found new sources of work.


Although it would be interesting to interview both parties in a contract or an export to assess whether the created job in one place jeopardized another or, on the contrary, it helped fill a rarely satisfied position, among other several reasons, momentarily we will only focus on the data collected through our research. 


From over 1605 current teleworkers that answered the survey the largest exporters are Costa Rica with 39 percent and Argentina with 25 percent.


Costa Rica is also the case with most migrating teleworkers (30%).


Teleworkers working independently represent between 30 and 50% of the total respondents.


5. Does it allow greater social and labor inclusion?

The number of diverse teleservices that we found teleworkers are offering, create a great perspective for inclusion. Among them we found teleservices of diverse complexity that embrace a variety of service providers. Even though the majority are professionals, we found that in countries where telework has had more dissemination and seniority, such as in Argentina, the interest has extended to tertiary levels of education. This would allow that a greater number of people were incorporated into the teleservices market in the future.


Etis-Lac drew out three analysis corresponding to three subuniverses. These were teleworkers with physical disabilities, teleworkers descendants of native tribes and teleworkers by gender.


In summary there are no limitations if there is the knowledge, there are the technologies and there is the interest in this way of working. Technologies do not discriminate per se, the problem will be to deal with the asymmetries in the access to ICTs so that telework reaches those who need it and/or want it.


6.Why aren’t Call Centers decentralized?

Since globalization and the devaluation process undergone by our currency in the year 2001, Argentina started a maturation process and experienced a growth in off-shore operations for it can now be spoken of a decentralization of operations toward places where operational costs are lower.


For these reasons, and within this new context we incorporated a fieldwork experience, crossing-over a series of technological, human and organizational variables, that even though do not allow generalizations neither allow a sole conclusion.


The fieldwork experience in ABSA, faced as main obstacle the external technological support. This was the most considerable source of restriction and not the personnel as it can usually be seen in different papers on telework.


From a management perspective it should be pointed out that the need of operating a change process in the mind of the supervisor and being able to operate from a management style based on trust is in order. This is a new challenge to be explored, specially if we are speaking of the call and contact center industry, where we hope this study can help make decisions for change.


7. Are there any obstacles for exports at a small scale?

We found that obstacles to teleservices exports can be, in general, to put a price on them, even though no obstacles were detected for those wishing to legally export their services through this way of working.


The four countries under examination show asymmetries in their progression in terms of legislation that can facilitate the provision of cross-border services.


Since these are cross-border services, it is important to take initiatives toward legal adaptation through international cooperation in order to face the changes presented by the advancement of ICTs, so to allow that those offering services independently or as an autonomous worker counted with the legal tools that make possible the relationship among the involved parties to be normal in all jurisdictions.



Final thoughts


For these foreign markets to become sources of decent work for our region, the Etis-Lac research team has pinned out a few points that believes cannot be neglected in the medium term future.



Public policies have encouraged software development, but it is not enough. It is essential that a new investment policy be enacted promoting the expansion of services as a substantial contribution to the productive process. In this sense, it is necessary to set clear goals  in the fields of training, dissemination, and provision and export of teleservices.


Future scenario for telework


Incorporating potential teleworkers allowed us to build up a future scenario over which we outlined a few points:


Except for the case of Brazil, the number of potential teleworkers in the four countries under study equals the number of current teleworkers.


With respect to a greater inclusion of women in the future, Argentina and Brazil showed the best percentages. Reducing differences between men and women that are currently teleworking. However, Colombia and Costa Rica widened these differences and could have more men than today teleworking in the future.


Facing a perspective development and the progressive incorporation of new teleworkers into the labor market and the world trade of services, it will be required that the region incorporates this way of working within its labor legislation and facilitates the exchange of teleservices in order to enhance the number of job opportunities to its real potential without any obstacles and with a normalized organization that prevents the benefits for some workers from jeopardizing those of others.


It is important to envision international cooperation frameworks that can adequate this long distance way of working while it is developing.


The main interest in the development of telework continues to be centered on people over 35 years of age, who find the greatest obstacles in finding a job in the traditional labor market.


The labor market today seems not to understand that these, people older than 35, those with longer years of experience, in many cases showing graduate and post-graduate studies, are the ones that are an intellectual capital that constitute the riches of our nations. A capital that is little considered and that will continue to be wasted if we do not see that the information workers are the base to an information economy.


We understand that is still necessary to recognize and give dimension to this new knowledge-base economy, says Leif Edvinsson,  Norwegian School of Economics and Management.



Accountability information and benefit measurement systems emphasize efficiency and controlling costs, using money as the basic criteria for making decisions. This current obsession with planning, budgeting and accounting through tangible indicators of wealth will end up impoverishing society, devaluating the riches of nations, for it overlooks the contribution of intangible indicators.[8]



The same author quotes a study issued by the OECD in which Sweden is among the first countries presenting a knowledge-base economy:


As all the statistics on the country’s capital show, Sweden has embraced technology with enthusiasm. According to one survey, Sweden is among the leading IT country in the world. This has not happened overnight. There has been long-term public government support for technology – tax-breaks for employees buying a computer, following on from initiatives such as free Internet access for students and earlier programs to give children access to PCs. It has shaped an infrastructure and structural capital for future wealth. This might be an illustration of how the public sector governance in a knowledge society is to focus on the interaction space between structural capital of society and the human citizen capital to reach a higher collective yield of prosperity.


This paragraph summarizes the interactive activity, that nations will have to undertake among the different social actors for that the teleworker does not find himself/herself alone navigating unknown seas with few orientation instruments.



[1] Vittorio Di Martino, Telework in Latin America and the Caribbean, Geneva, September 2004, This paper was done with the financial assistance of the International Development Research Center, Canada.


[2]        An extensive list of teleservices can be found at: http://www.discapnet.es/Discapnet/Castellano/Empleo/Teletrabajo/Actividades/default.htm


[3] See Specific objective 1, Table 2, 3, 4, y 5

[4] See Specific objective 1, Table 6.

[5] See Specific objective 1, Table 27

[6] See Specific objective 1, Table 29

[7] See Specific objective 1, Table 28

[8] Leif Edvinsson, Where and who is the mastering of IC of Nations tomorrow?, Aula abierta magazine http://www.madrimasd.org/revista/revista11/ingles/ingles.asp