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Understanding Global Labor Arbitrage: Definition, Pros & Cons

In industrial plants, 5G can support augmented and virtual reality–based maintenance from remote locations, creating new service and data flows. GoProcure’s Buyer’s Desk, for instance, can help quickly assist with purchasing needs as they come up, rather than requiring you to have a large staff labor cost arbitrage meaning on-hand at all times. Our expertise helps you find the high-quality, low-cost suppliers you need to save money without sacrificing quality. Even if the contractor has a higher hourly rate or project fee than you’d normally pay an employee, they often can fit a lot of work into limited hours.

The hallmarks of that approach—heightened awareness, greater resilience, more flexibility, and the timely alignment of leadership around needed adjustments—will be invaluable for companies as they navigate the choppy waters of global economic rebalancing. This process will continue and perhaps even accelerate in the years ahead, not despite, but because of the structural adjustments that are needed to put the global economy on a more sustainable trajectory. In that spirit, investors might want to push asset-lite firms for scope 1 and more expansive scope 2 disclosures of labor and other aspects of operations rendered opaque by financial and legal engineering. Taken at face value, this disclosure suggests that around 420,000 workers (745, , ,000) or 60% of the ecosystem’s workforce are completely off-balance sheet on affiliates’ books. In addition, 205,000 or 28% are managed by Marriott but not employed by them.

If now we are to ensure that the engineer maintains his standard of living, we must bump up his salary from INR 100 to INR 130; an increase of 30%.Note the magic. We doubled the price of the Dollar, but we have to increase the salary of the engineer by only 30% relative to her existing salary, to keep her as well as off as before. Nothing could be more dysfunctional, and note that at the core of this seething mass of conflict, is our fetish for subsidizing industry or capital, at the expense of farmers and consumers, in the belief that “industrialization” creates jobs.

I believe senior executives need to prepare now for a world that—as China’s recent decision to relax its informal peg of the yuan to the US dollar underscores—will be coming to grips with an unsustainable set of economic relationships. Their unwinding will have serious long-term implications for those executives’ strategic priorities, including where they locate operations and what customers they serve in which markets. Equally important is the need for preparedness in case the unwinding process is sudden and abrupt. While we surely seem to be headed toward a new global equilibrium, the transition to that future world may not be smooth and gradual. During the COVID-19 pandemic, firms around the world faced disruptions due to restrictions on the movement of people and products. This pandemic accelerated the trend of labour arbitrage by increasing the need for remote workers for business continuity and cost reduction.

Perhaps your company is like most enterprises in America, having opted for this strategy to achieve cost savings. I believe it’s important to recognize that the arbitrage/offshoring model took companies’ attention away from investing in internal productivity improvements. But there are fewer opportunities now for the labor arbitrage model since it is maturing, and new barriers are arising for sending/maintaining U.S. work offshore. This tends to increase the supply of labor relative to capital in the prosperous nations and potentially decreases wages, according to the laws of supply and demand (of and for labor). However, this decrease can be offset by job creation due to talented immigrants, as discussed in the last section. As huge numbers of the global workforce were forced to set up offices from home, the rise of remote working practices during the COVID-19 pandemic signaled a permanent switch to remote, hybrid, and other flexible working models.

  1. E-commerce marketplaces have already enabled significant cross-border flows by aggregating huge selections and making pricing and comparisons more transparent.
  2. And this is where CyberMedics steps in to save the day, acting like a superhero ensuring smooth implementation.
  3. This can be especially valuable when specialised skills like software development and graphic design are required.
  4. Upwork is a great way to connect with talented individuals with the specialized skills you need.
  5. Likewise, by moving production where the raw materials are (or closer), the company reduces shipping costs.

As part of the battle, companies may have to increase salaries to unsustainable levels. To lower their costs, these companies may hire contractors living in other countries. While this would seem to benefit only the employer, statistics show workers want to continue with some form of remote work going forward and are less likely to accept a job that doesn’t let them work from home part of the time. As a result, it’s estimated that by 2028, 73% of all teams will include some remote employees.


There is nothing wrong with labor arbitrage, but U.S. companies have effectively been taking the easy path and now face the need to choose an alternative strategy for cost savings. That alternative is investing in technologies that improve productivity of U.S. workers. Finally, companies engaging in labor arbitrage must take measures to ensure their workforce is equipped with the necessary skills and training to succeed in the new market. By investing in employee development programs, businesses can ensure their workers have the requisite skills and knowledge to succeed in the new location, while also ensuring that they are not exposed to excessive risks. By using labour arbitrage effectively, firms can gain a competitive advantage through cost reduction and remain profitable in a changing business environment.

Here’s a handy guide on how to make the most of it while avoiding common pitfalls. Employees realized that in addition to reducing their exposure to illness, they were less distracted, better focused, and had a better work-life balance. And as more employers allowed remote work, employees moved to less expensive cities to lower their cost of living. But with independent contractors, employers are freed from many of those additional expenses. For example, the payroll processor may still charge a fee for cutting the contractor’s check, but the employer doesn’t pay social security or unemployment taxes.

The law of one price also exists for freely traded foreign exchange and most instruments traded in the capital market. It does not exist for labor, however—which is the fundamental structural issue the global economy faces. The asset-lite arrangement followed by many U.S. companies is a remarkable feat of financial engineering that brings benefits to consumers and investors. It is difficult for a brand management company to manage large and internationally dispersed operations without active involvement of franchisees and affiliates. Franchising also enables the entrepreneurial energy and financial capital of its franchise owners to partner with the reputational capital that brands such as Marriott and Hilton have built over decades. Global labor arbitrage is where, as a result of the removal or reduction of barriers to international trade, jobs move to nations where labor and the cost of doing business (such as environmental regulations) are inexpensive.

Products and services

When considering a labor arbitrage strategy, it is also important to take into account the impact it could have on the company’s culture. Companies should be aware of any potential cultural differences between their employees at home and in the new market, and ensure they are taking measures to build a cohesive team. By focusing on creating an inclusive work environment that respects local cultures and values, businesses can ensure their labor arbitrage strategy is successful. Additionally, companies should also consider any potential language barriers between employees from different markets, and ensure appropriate communication protocols are in place to foster collaboration. It is also important to consider the potential economic impact of labor arbitrage on local economies and workers in the host country. While there may be cost savings for businesses as a result of labor arbitrage, this can lead to job displacement in the host country, as well as downward pressure on wages.

One of the forces reshaping global value chains is a change in the geography of global demand

So, while the company pays a contractor more per hour (say $25 instead of $15), they are no longer responsible for the taxes, thus reducing the overall cost of that employee. Other developing countries are beginning to exhibit the same structural shifts seen in China, although they are at earlier stages. In textiles and apparel, for instance, production networks spanning multiple stages are consolidating within individual countries such as Vietnam, Bangladesh, Malaysia, India, and Indonesia. China’s rapid growth has made it a major part of virtually every goods-producing global value chain. Overall, it now accounts for 20 percent of global gross output, up from just 4 percent in 1995. In textiles and apparel, electrical machinery, and glass, cement, and ceramics, it now produces nearly half of global output.

Another factor to consider when undertaking a labor arbitrage strategy is the impact it could have on a company’s reputation. Companies that engage in labor arbitrage may be perceived as exploiting workers or taking advantage of disadvantaged markets, which can lead to negative public opinion and backlash. It is important for companies to take measures to ensure that their labor arbitrage practices are conducted ethically and responsibly, with attention paid to local wages and working conditions. Companies should also be aware of any potential legal implications that could arise from shifting labor costs to another market, and ensure they are compliant with all applicable laws and regulations. Overall, labor arbitrage can be a powerful tool for businesses operating in global markets.

Given these benefits to date, it’s clear that organizations can lower their labor costs even more dramatically by improving productivity than by moving the work offshore. Although the IT focus for the last 10 to 20 years has focused on reducing costs by offshoring, I believe the next 10 years will be a story of increasing productivity in the workforce. We know even less about the labor costs of the 205,000 employees they manage but do not employ and the 420,000 odd employees in the ecosystem or scope 2 labor that is not explicitly on Marriott’s books. These 205,000 employees lie in the grey zone between the legal definition of an “employee” as opposed to a “contractor.” Remarkably, these employees are discussed in Marriott’s sustainability report, as discussed next. Labour arbitrage can lead to better quality and increased speed of operations. Firms can streamline processes, improve productivity, and reduce time-to-market by taking advantage of the availability of skilled labour in different time zones.

This is a wonderful trend for humankind and would be a boon for everyone in the world if emerging-market employment were directed largely toward production for domestic consumption. The challenge for developed-world governments and citizens seeking jobs, however, is that a significant fraction of this emerging-world labor displaces jobs that would otherwise be created in Europe, Japan, and the United States. This may be the underlying reason why unemployment in Europe, Japan, and the United States is becoming more structural rather than cyclical and may get worse over time no matter how much public stimulus is provided. Certainly, the job losses of the Great Recession look quite different from those of past recessions (Exhibit 1).1 1. For a perspective on the relationship between offshoring and employment from 2000 to 2003, see Martin Neil Baily and Robert Z. Lawrence, “Don’t blame trade for US job losses,”, February 2005. American businesses face a changing climate where it’s less acceptable to offshore work now.

Remember, it’s not just about finding cheaper labor – it’s about crafting a diversified, global organization that’s resilient and scalable. So, take it slow, be patient, and make sure to celebrate the small victories along the way. If you’re looking at optimizing your processes through cheap labor or struggling with finding the right people for your needs, this post could be instrumental in shaping your future strategies around Labor Arbitrage. Although pure arbitrage should be no-risk and the price differences are typically very small, there are still some limits to arbitrage.

However, the company may also have additional expenses, like paying an accountant to calculate the taxes or the payroll processor for the additional paperwork. Under this set of circumstances, a trader can purchase TD shares on the TSX for $63.50 CAD and simultaneously sell the same security on the NYSE for $47.00 USD. Taking the exchange rate into consideration, the equivalent value of each share should be $64.39 CAD. Ultimately the trader yielded a profit of $0.89 per share ($64.39 – $63.50) for this transaction.