Offshoring is the relocation of a business process from one country to another—typically an operational process, such as manufacturing, or supporting processes, such as accounting. Usually this refers to a company business, although state governments may also employ offshoring. More recently, technical and administrative services have been offshored.
Offshoring and outsourcing are not mutually inclusive: there can be one without the other. They can be intertwined (offshore outsourcing), and can be individually or jointly, partially or completely reversed, involving terms such as reshoring, inshoring, and insourcing.
Imported services from subsidiaries or other closely related suppliers are included, whereas intermediate goods, such as partially completed cars or computers, may not be.
Lower cost and increased corporate profitability are often the motivation, economists call this labor arbitrage. More recently, offshoring incentives also include access to qualified personnel abroad, in particular in technical professions, and decreasing the time to market.
Jobs are added in the destination country providing the goods or services and are subtracted from the higher-cost labor country. The increased safety net costs of the unemployed may be absorbed by the government (taxpayers) in the high-cost country or by the company doing the offshoring. Europe experienced less offshoring than the United States due to policies that applied more costs to corporations and cultural barriers.
After its accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001, the People's Republic of China emerged as a prominent destination for production offshoring. Another focus area has been the software industry as part of global software development and developing global information systems. After technical progress in telecommunications improved the possibilities of trade in services, India became one prominent destination for such offshoring, though many parts of the world are now emerging as offshore destinations.
Frequently used terms
Offshoring is defined as the movement of a business process done at a company in one country to the same company in another country.
It is not the same as outsourcing, which is the movement of internal business processes to an external organizational unit. This is done under restrictions and strategies in order to establish consistency with the offshore outsourcing organizations. Many companies nowadays outsource various professional areas in the company such as e-mail services, payroll and call center. These jobs are being handled by other organizations that specialize in each sector allowing the offshoring company to focus more on other business concerns.
Subcontracting in the same country would be outsourcing, but not offshoring. A company moving an internal business unit from one country to another would be offshoring or physical restructuring, but not outsourcing. A company subcontracting a business unit to a different company in another country would be both outsourcing and offshoring: Offshore outsourcing.
Related terms include
- nearshoring, - relocation of business processes to (typically) lower cost foreign locations, but in close geographical proximity (e.g., shifting United States-based business processes to Canada, Mexico or Latin America)
- inshoring, - picking services within a country
- bestshoring or rightshoring, picking the "best shore" based on various criteria
- Business process outsourcing (BPO) refers to outsourcing arrangements when entire business functions (such as finance, accounting, and customer service) are outsourced. More specific terms can be found in the field of software development - for example Global Information System as a class of systems being developed for / by globally distributed teams.
- Bodyshopping is the practice of using offshored resources and personnel to do small disaggregated tasks within a business environment, without any broader intention to offshore an entire business function.
Offshoring can be seen in the context of either production offshoring or services offshoring, and refers to substitution of a service from any company-owned foreign source for one formerly produced in the company's home country, whether or not outsourcing is involved.
Production offshoring, also known as physical restructuring, of established products involves relocation of physical manufacturing processes overseas, usually to a lower-cost destination or one with fewer regulatory restrictions.
This trend later shifted to China, which offered cheap prices through very low wage rates, few workers' rights laws, a fixed currency pegged to the US dollar, (currently fixed to a basket of economies) cheap loans, cheap land, and factories for new companies, few environmental regulations, and huge economies of scale based on cities with populations over a million workers dedicated to producing a single kind of product. However, many companies are reluctant to move high value-added production of leading-edge products to China because of lax enforcement of intellectual property laws.
IT-enabled services offshoring
Growth of offshoring of IT-enabled services, both to subsidiaries and to outside companies (offshore outsourcing) is linked to the availability of large amounts of reliable and affordable communication infrastructure following the telecommunication and Internet expansion of the late 1990s.
Much of the job movement, however, was to outside companies - offshore outsourcing.
John Urry (distinguished professor of sociology at Lancaster University) argues that the concealment of income, the avoidance of taxation and eluding legislation relating to work, finance, pleasure, waste, energy and security may be becoming a serious concern for democratic governments and ordinary citizens who may be adversely affected by unregulated, offshore activities. Further, the rising costs of transportation could lead to production nearer the point of consumption becoming more economically viable, particularly as new technologies such as additive manufacturing mature.
Reshoring (also known as onshoring, inshoring and backshoring) is the act of reintroducing domestic manufacturing to a country. It is the reverse process of offshoring, where manufacturing is moved to another country where labor is cheaper.
The World Bank's 2019 World Development Report on the future of work considers the potential for automation to drive companies to reshore production, reducing the role of labor in the process, and offers suggestions as to how governments can respond. A similar movement can be seen related to Robotic Process Automation, called RPA or RPAAI for self-guided RPA 2.0 based on artificial intelligence, where the incentive to move repetitive shared services work to lower cost countries is partially taken away by the progression of technology.
President Obama's 2011 SelectUSA program was the first federal program to promote and facilitate U.S. investment in partnership with the states. This program and website helps companies connect with resources available on a Federal, State and local level. In January 2012, President Obama issued a call to action to "invest in America" at the White House "Insourcing American Jobs" Forum.
There have been several very successful stories of companies. In most cases hundreds if not thousands of jobs were created or reinstated. In the case of Starbucks, in 2012 it saved American Mug and Stein Company in East Liverpool, Ohio from bankruptcy.
Some cases of reshoring have not been successful. Otis Elevators' reshoring effort did not go well. Otis says it failed to consider the consequences of the new location and tried to do too much at once, including a supply-chain software implementation. This is not an uncommon reshoring scenario. Bringing manufacturing back to the United States isn't so simple, and there are a lot of considerations and analyses that companies must do to determine the costs and feasibility of reshoring. Some companies pursue reshoring with their own internal staff. But reshoring projects are complicated and involve engineering, marketing, production, finance, and procurement. In addition, there are real estate concerns, government incentives and training requirements that require outreach to the community. To help with these projects, companies often turn to consultants that specialize in reshoring.
In the United Kingdom, companies have used the reintroduction of domestic call centres as a unique selling point. In 2014, the RSA Insurance Group completed a move of call centres back to Britain. The call centre industry in India has been hit by reshoring, as businesses including British Telecom, Santander UK and Aviva all announced they would move operations back to Britain in order to boost the economy and regain customer satisfaction.
Product design, research and the development (R&D) process is relatively difficult to offshore because R&D, to improve products and create new reference designs, requires a higher skill set not associated with cheap labor.
An abstract of a study published 2019, which did not include either India or China, and did not specify whether the offshoring was also outsourcing, said "that R&D offshoring contributes positively to productivity in the home country.".
Transfer of intellectual property
There is a relationship between offshoring and patent-system strength. Companies under a strong patent system are not afraid to move work offshore because their work will remain their property. Conversely, companies in countries with weak patent systems have an increased fear of intellectual property theft from foreign vendors or workers, and, therefore, have less offshoring.
Offshoring is often enabled by the transfer of valuable information to the offshore site. Such information and training enables the remote workers to produce results of comparable value previously produced by internal employees. When such transfer includes protected materials, as confidential documents and trade secrets, protected by non-disclosure agreements, then intellectual property has been transferred or exported. The documentation and valuation of such exports is quite difficult, but should be considered since it comprises items that may be regulated or taxable.
Offshoring to foreign subsidiaries has been a controversial issue spurring heated debates among economists. Jobs go to the destination country and lower cost of goods and services to the origin country.
On the other hand, job losses and wage erosion in developed countries have sparked opposition. Free trade with low-wage countries is win-lose for many employees who find their jobs offshored or with stagnating wages.
Currency manipulation by governments and their central banks cause differences in labor cost. On May 1, 2002, Economist and former Ambassador Ernest H. Preeg testified before the Senate committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs that China, for instance, pegs its currency to the dollar at a sub-par value in violation of Article IV of the International Monetary Fund Articles of Agreement which state that no nation shall manipulate its currency to gain a market advantage.
The number of jobs lost to offshoring is less than 1 percent of the total US labor market. According to a study by the Heritage foundation, outsourcing represents a very small proportion of jobs lost in the US. The total number of jobs lost to offshoring, both manufacturing and technical represent only 4 percent of the total jobs lost in the US. Major reasons for cutting jobs are from contract completion and downsizing. Some economists and commentators claim that the offshoring phenomenon is way overblown.
Impact on jobs in western countries
The Economist reported in January 2013 that "High levels of unemployment in Western countries after the 2007-2008 financial crisis have made the public in many countries so hostile towards offshoring that many companies are now reluctant to engage in it." Economist Paul Krugman wrote in 2007 that while free trade among high-wage countries is viewed as win-win, free trade with low-wage countries is win-lose for many employees who find their jobs offshored or with stagnating wages.
Two estimates of the impact of offshoring on U.S. jobs were between 150,000 and 300,000 per year from 2004–2015. This represents 10-15% of U.S. job creation.
The increased safety net costs of the unemployed may be absorbed by the government (taxpayers) in the high-cost country or by the company doing the offshoring. Europe experienced less offshoring than the U.S. due to policies that applied more costs to corporations and cultural barriers.
The World Bank's 2019 World Development Report on the future of work  highlights how offshoring can shape the demand for skills in receiving countries and explores how increasing automation can lead to reshoring of production in some cases.
U.S. opinion polls indicate that between 76-95% of Americans surveyed agreed that "outsourcing of production and manufacturing work to foreign countries is a reason the U.S. economy is struggling and more people aren't being hired."
Effects of factor of production mobility
According to classical economics, the three factors of production are land, labor, and capital. Offshoring relies heavily on the mobility of labor and capital; land has little or no mobility potential.
In microeconomics, working capital funds the initial costs of offshoring. If the state heavily regulates how a corporation can spend its working capital, it will not be able to offshore its operations. For the same reason the macroeconomy must be free for offshoring to succeed.
Computers and the Internet made work in the services industry electronically portable. Most theories that argue offshoring eventually benefits domestic workers assume that those workers will be able to obtain new jobs, even if by accepting lower salaries or by retraining themselves in a new field. Foreign workers benefit from new jobs and higher wages when the work moves to them.
In the developed world, moving manufacturing jobs out of the country dates to at least the 1960s while moving knowledge service jobs offshore dates to the 1970s and has continued since then. It was characterized primarily by the transferring of factories from the developed to the developing world. This offshoring and closing of factories has caused a structural change in the developed world from an industrial to a post-industrial service society.
During the 20th century, the decreasing costs of transportation and communication combined with great disparities on pay rates made increased offshoring from wealthier countries to less wealthy countries financially feasible for many companies. Further, the growth of the Internet, particularly fiber-optic intercontinental long haul capacity, and the World Wide Web reduced "transportation" costs for many kinds of information work to near zero.
Impact of the Internet
Regardless of size, companies benefit from accessibility to labor resources across the world. This gave rise to business models such as Remote In-Sourcing that allow companies to tap into resources found abroad, without losing control over security of product quality.
New categories of work such as call centres, computer programming, reading medical data such as X-rays and magnetic resonance imaging, medical transcription, income tax preparation, and title searching are being offshored.
Before the 1990s, Ireland was one of the poorest countries in the EU. Because of Ireland's relatively low corporate tax rates, US companies began offshoring of software, electronic, and pharmaceutical intellectual property to Ireland for export. This helped create a high-tech "boom" which led to Ireland becoming one of the richest EU countries.
The plan to create free trade areas (such as Free Trade Area of the Americas) has not yet been successful. In 2005, offshoring of skilled work, also referred to as knowledge work, dramatically increased from the US, which fed the growing worries about threats of job loss.
There are four basic types of offshore outsourcing:
- Information technology outsourcing (ITO) is where outsourcing related to technology or internet such as computer programming.
- Business process outsourcing (BPO) involves contracting out of operational functions to a third party service provider.
- Offshore software development
- Knowledge process outsourcing (KPO) is a type of outsourcing which involves or requires a more advanced technical skill and a higher level of expertise.
The general criteria for a job to be offshore-able are:
- There is a significant wage difference between the original and offshore countries;
- The job can be telework;
- The work can be transmitted over the Internet;
- The work is repeatable.
Source of conflict
Jobs formerly held by U.S. workers have been lost, even as underdeveloped countries such as Brazil and Turkey flourish. Free-trade advocates suggest economies as a whole will obtain a net benefit from labor offshoring, but it is unclear if the displaced receive a net benefit.
Some wages overseas are rising. A study by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that Chinese wages were almost tripled in the seven years following 2002. Research suggests that these wage increases could redirect some offshoring elsewhere.
Increased training and education has been advocated to offset trade-related displacements, but it is no longer a comparative advantage of high-wage nations because education costs are lower in low-wage countries.
- Anti-globalization movement
- Borderless selling
- Call center security
- Decline and Fall of the American Programmer
- Domestic sourcing
- Free trade controversy
- Global delivery model
- Global labor arbitrage
- Global sourcing
- Globally integrated enterprise
- Guest worker
- Labor shortage
- List of international trade topics
- Low-cost country sourcing
- Offshore company
- Offshoring Research Network
- Programmers Guild
- Runaway production
- Tax haven
- "The Offshoring of American Government". Cornell Law Review. November 2008. SSRN 1143044. Cite journal requires
- Stephan Manning; Silvia Massini; Arie Lewin (October 20, 2008). "SSRN-A Dynamic Perspective on Next-Generation Offshoring: The Global Sourcing of Science and Engineering Talent". Academy of Management Perspectives. 22 (3): 35–54. doi:10.5465/amp.2008.34587994. S2CID 8998524. SSRN 1287369.
- Cliff Justice; Stan Lepeak. "Captive Audience: How to Partner with Service Providers to Improve In-House Offshore Operations". CIO magazine.
a.k.a. internal shared-services centers in low-cost locations
- See "Appendix II: Definitions of Offshoring" in General Accounting Office: "International Trade: Current Government Data Provide Limited Insight into Offshoring of Services", September 2004. Imported intermediate goods are included in offshoring in "Swenson, D: "International Outsourcing", in The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics, 2008.
- Milosz Miszczynski (2016-06-22). "Labour arbitrage: the lifecycle of a global production node". Journal of Organizational Ethnography. 5 (2): 106–122. doi:10.1108/JOE-04-2016-0009. ISSN 2046-6749.
- "Staying put. European jobs are not coming back because few of them went in the first place". The Economist. January 2013. Retrieved April 8, 2014.
- "Offshore manufacturing - definition and meaning".
- Fishman, T: "China, Inc." Scribner, 2006.
- Mostafa Hashem Sherif (2006). Managing Projects in Telecommunication Service. ISBN 0470047674.
(chapter) COMMUNICATION AND OUTSOURCING ... Roche, 1998
- "Workforce Management Online, Dec 2007". Archived from the original on 2013-12-17. Retrieved 2010-04-12.
- "Inshoring". Mike Karlesky. May 17, 2005. Retrieved 31 July 2008.
- Zacks Investment Research (April 29, 2015). "Reshoring Bringing Back Jobs to USA". Zacks Investment Research. Retrieved 29 April 2015.
- John Urry (April 14, 2014). Offshoring. polity UK. ISBN 978-0745664866.
- "World Bank World Development Report 2019: The Changing Nature of Work" (PDF).
- Stuart Rosenberg (2018). The Global Supply Chain and Risk Management. ISBN 1631579592.
- Office of the Press Secretary. "President Obama Issues Call to Action to Invest in America at White House "Insourcing American Jobs" Forum". whitehouse.gov. Retrieved 11 January 2012 – via National Archives.
- Christian F. Durach; Stefan Kurpjuweit; Stephan M. Wagner (2017-09-25). "The impact of additive manufacturing on supply chains". International Journal of Physical Distribution & Logistics Management. 47 (10): 954–971. doi:10.1108/ijpdlm-11-2016-0332. ISSN 0960-0035.
- John Grgurich. "What's So Special About This Starbuck's [sic] Mug?". Daily Finance. Retrieved 15 June 2012.
- Rosemary Coates. "How To Avoid a Failed Reshoring Project". CFO. Retrieved June 9, 2014.
- Rosemary Coates. "Are you ready to evaluate Reshoring?". Blue Silk Consulting Reshoring.
- "RSA completes move to UK-only call centres/1409402.article". Insurance Times. August 5, 2014. Retrieved May 20, 2015.
- "India may no longer be outsourcing hub as UK companies such as Aviva, BT & Santander move work to home country". The Economic Times. July 14, 2011. Retrieved May 20, 2015.
- de Rassenfosse, Gaétan; Thomson, Russell (2019). "R&D offshoring and home industry productivity" (PDF). Industrial and Corporate Change. Oxford University Press. 28 (6): 1497–1513. doi:10.1093/icc/dtz020.
- Rosenbusch, Nina; Gusenbauer, Michael; Hatak, Isabella; Fink, Matthias; Meyer, Klaus E. (April 12, 2019). "Innovation Offshoring, Institutional Context and Innovation Performance: A Meta-Analysis". Journal of Management Studies. 56 (1): 203–233. doi:10.1111/joms.12407.
- Paul Krugman (December 12, 2007). "The Trouble with Trade". The New York Times.
- Ernest H. Preeg (May 1, 2002). Testimony on Chinese Currency Manipulation Archived 2006-04-27 at the Wayback Machine
- "IT Employment Reaches Record High In U.S". InformationWeek. Retrieved 29 April 2015.
- "Business Technology News and Commentary - InformationWeek". InformationWeek. Retrieved 29 April 2015.
- "Myths and Realities: The False Crisis of Outsourcing". The Heritage Foundation. Archived from the original on 3 March 2010. Retrieved 29 April 2015.
- "Samuelson: Debunking the Great Offshoring Myth". Newsweek.com. 2007-08-21. Retrieved 2010-05-22.
- "Here, there and everywhere". January 19, 2013 – via The Economist.
- "Shape up" – via The Economist.
- Amiti, Mary; Wei, Shang-Jin; Haskel, Jonathan; Auriol, Emmanuelle (2005). "Fear of Service Outsourcing: Is It Justified?" (PDF). Economic Policy. 20 (42): 307–347. doi:10.1111/j.1468-0327.2005.00140.x. JSTOR 3601072. S2CID 154874880.
- Groshen, Erica; Hobijn, Bart; McConnell, Margaret M. (2005). "U.S. jobs gained and lost through trade: a net measure". Current Issues in Economics and Finance. 11 (Aug).
- Liu, Runjuan; Trefler, Daniel (June 2008). "Much Ado About Nothing: American Jobs and the Rise of Service Outsourcing to China and India". NBER Working Paper No. 14061. doi:10.3386/w14061.
- Ebenstein, Avraham; Harrison, Ann; McMillan, Margaret; Phillips, Shannon (2013-05-15). "Estimating the Impact of Trade and Offshoring on American Workers using the Current Population Surveys". The Review of Economics and Statistics. 96 (4): 581–595. doi:10.1162/rest_a_00400. ISSN 0034-6535. S2CID 43576715.
- Pierce, Justin R.; Schott, Peter K. (July 2016). "The Surprisingly Swift Decline of US Manufacturing Employment" (PDF). American Economic Review. 106 (7): 1632–1662. doi:10.1257/aer.20131578. hdl:10419/89626. ISSN 0002-8282. S2CID 3328782.
- Robert C. Feenstra; Gordon H. Hanson (1996). "Globalization, Outsourcing, and Wage Inequality". The American Economic Review. 86 (2): 240–245. JSTOR 2118130.
- Sara Murray And Douglas Belkin (October 2, 2010). "Americans Sour on Trade". WSJ. Retrieved 29 April 2015.
- Gallup, Inc. "Americans' Top Job–Creation Idea: Stop Sending Work Overseas". Retrieved 29 April 2015.
- M. Miszczynski (2016-02-18). "Global Production in a Romanian Village: Middle-Income Economy, Industrial Dislocation and the Reserve Army of Labor". Critical Sociology. 43 (7–8): 1079–1092. doi:10.1177/0896920515623076. S2CID 146971797.
- General Accounting Office: "Offshoring: U.S. Semiconductor and Software Industries Increasingly Produce in China and India" Archived 2010-12-02 at the Wayback Machine, September 2006.
- Metters, Richard; Verma, Rohit (2008). "History of offshoring knowledge services". Journal of Operations Management. 26 (2): 141. doi:10.1016/j.jom.2007.02.012. hdl:1813/72001.
- Baase, Sara (2008). A Gift of Fire: Social, Legal, and Ethical Issues for Computing and The Internet (Third ed.). Harlow: Prentice Hall. ISBN 978-0-13-600848-4.
- Gartner Outlines the Top 10 Forces to Impact Outsourcing and IT Services Industry. Sep. 2010
- Amy Karson; Marcia Brown (October 2012). A Nonprofit Guide to Outsourcing (PDF). Nonprofit Coordinating Committee of New York.
- Marc-William Palen (June 18, 2013). "Protectionism leads to its own outsourcing problems".
- Kupchan, C. (2012, January 1). The Democratic malaise: Globalization and the threat to the West, 62-67.
- "Free Trade and Outsourcing Are Not the Same | YaleGlobal Online". yaleglobal.yale.edu.
- N. G. Mankiw (2006). "The Politics and Economics of Offshore Outsourcing" (PDF). Harvard.edu.
- "Outsourcing & Offshoring Industry Market Research". Plunkett Research, Ltd.
- "Education and learning". The Los Angeles Times.
|Look up offshoring in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
- Consulate General of the Kingdom of The Netherlands Guangzhou (2011). Outsourcing Comparison Study South-East Asia: China, India, Vietnam 2011-2012.
- "More Support to Push Reshoring". Coventry Evening Telegraph. October 28, 2013.[dead link]
- Annie Baxter (March 13, 2012). "Factories 'Reshore' Some Work From Overseas". All Things Considered. National Public Radio. Retrieved May 20, 2015.
- Adam Belz (January 13, 2013). "Report shows U.S. manufacturers continue to lag". Star Tribune. Minneapolis.
- Alan S. Blinder, "Offshoring: The Next Industrial Revolution?" in Foreign Affairs, Vol. 85, No. 2 (March/April 2006), pp. 113–128.
- Andrew Bounds (May 10, 2013). "Survey says reshoring 'symbolic' and will not lead to jobs boom". Globe and Mail. Toronto.
- Kevin Carmichael (June 4, 2013). "Canada's 'reshoring' opportunity". Globe and Mail. Toronto.
- Thomas L. Friedman, The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century (2005).
- Jon Griffin (March 3, 2014). "Bosses Back to UK in Reshoring Moves". Birmingham Mail. Archived from the original on March 9, 2016 – via HighBeam Research.
- Mark Hennessy (March 5, 2014). "Wheels of Industry Turn Faster as UK Brings Manufacturing Back Home". The Irish Times. Archived from the original on March 8, 2016 – via HighBeam Research.
- Catherine L. Mann & Jacob Funk Kirkegaard, Accelerating the Globalization of America: The Role for Information Technology, Institute for International Economics, Washington D.C., Peterson Institute for International Economics (June 2006).
- Stephan Manning, Silvia Massini & Arie Y. Lewin, A Dynamic Perspective on Next-Generation Offshoring: The Global Sourcing of Science and Engineering Talent, Academy of Management Perspectives, Vol. 22, No. 3 (October 2008), pp. 35–54. JSTOR 27747462
- Ed Marcum (August 7, 2010). "Some businesses learning value of bringing factories back to the U.S." Knoxville News Sentinel.
- Jackie Northam (January 27, 2014). "As Overseas Costs Rise, More U.S. Companies Are 'Reshoring'". All Things Considered. National Public Radio. Retrieved 20 May 2015.
- Jon Talton (February 22, 2014). "Outsourcing not what you think, say researchers". Seattle Times.
- Jim Zarroli (December 16, 2014). "'Reshoring' Trend Has Little Impact On U.S. Economy, Study Finds". Morning Edition. National Public Radio. Retrieved May 20, 2015.
- "Industrial Property Boost as Manufacturers Return Home". Birmingham Post. December 4, 2014.[dead link]