Four Key Legal Consequences of Translation Errors for Modern Businesses

Accurate translations are of critical importance in the business arena. While poorly translated documentation may be amusing in the abstract, these little mistakes can have a surprisingly large impact on corporate safety plans, environmental protection strategies and scientific inquiries. Taking steps to prevent these translation errors can protect modern businesses against some serious legal complications. Here are four of the most damaging consequences of translation errors in the corporate environment.

Failed Safety Plans

OSHA Wallet Card [Source:]

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provides guidelines for companies operating in the U.S. In some cases, businesses are required to develop a safety plan that covers the procedures used to manage certain hazardous activities. According to OSHA, chemical plants and oil refineries must ensure that all their employees understand and follow the guidelines set forth in their safety plans (source). In some cases, however, these staff members may lack fluency in the English language and may require translations into their own native tongues. Providing all employees with the training and written guidelines needed to perform their duties safely is essential. Failure to do so can result in costly and dangerous accidents that could lead to federal investigations, fines and even shutdowns of business operations for an extended period of time. Companies may also be found legally liable for costs and damages resulting from inaccurate translations of safety plan documentation.

Contractual Woes

Businesses that operate in the international marketplace typically enter into contracts with suppliers, vendors and clients from around the world. Professional translation services can ensure that all communications between these companies and their foreign associates are clear and precise to prevent legal difficulties during the duration and enforcement of the contract. This is especially important for companies in the chemical and industrial fields; the wrong scientific translations can significantly delay the delivery of important components and may even result in dangerous situations for staff members working with these substances. The legal liabilities that could ensue as a result of incorrect contractual translations could add up to significant financial losses for companies engaged in business operations on an international scale.

As a major example from the Korea-European Union Free Trade Agreement shows, it’s not only businesses that can be affected by translation mistakes. When the Korean trade ministry decided to translate the text internally — rather than hiring a professional translation company — the result was disastrous: some 207 errors in translated text meant an additional setback for already long-delayed process and was the source of considerable embarrassment.

Translation error stress

Charges of False Advertising

The humorous results of improper translations in commercial settings can be found all over the internet. While most of these mistakes result only in a few chuckles and a small amount of lost sales, some can be financially and legally damaging. Many countries maintain regulations intended to punish companies for false or deceptive advertising. In the U.S., the Federal Trade Commission pursues cases against companies that make inflated or inaccurate claims about the properties or capabilities of their products. The penalties for false advertising vary widely from country to country; in the United Kingdom, for instance, criminal charges may be preferred against companies that provide misleading information to consumers. While the errors may result from innocent mistakes in translation, businesses in violation of these consumer protection laws may still face a lengthy and costly regulatory battle to prove lack of intent to deceive their customers.

Civil Liability

Companies that inadvertently describe their products incorrectly due to translation errors can be held liable for any damages or injuries caused by the use of these products in accordance with the faulty instructions. Products that are intended for international sale may have directions written in a number of languages to ensure that all customers can read and use these instructions. Inaccurate translations can result in a number of unwanted consequences:

  • Consumers faced with inaccurate or undecipherable instructions may fail to assemble or use the product correctly, resulting in numerous requests for refunds or replacements and complaints against the company.
  • If the translated directions result in a dangerous situation for consumers, companies may be liable for any injuries or deaths that result from the use of these products as directed by the translation errors. This can lead to significant costs associated with defending these cases in court that could financially cripple or bankrupt the offending company.
  • Importers of food and drink products are especially susceptible to civil liability when translating lists of ingredients and, in some cases, the provenance of those ingredients. Individuals with allergies to certain ingredients could experience serious health issues as a result of consuming certain items. Additionally, the 2007 recalls of pet foods originating from China highlight the issue of potential contamination emanating from ingredients sourced from certain areas of the world. Companies that fail to ensure the accuracy of ingredient list translations may be legally liable for any injuries or deaths resulting from these mistakes.

Food label safety

A relatively small investment in professional translation services can show due diligence on the part of corporate entities and can reduce legal liability in these situations.

Most manufacturing and industrial companies require the services of translating services on an occasional or regular basis. By entrusting these duties to a professional company that specializes in accurate and timely delivery, businesses can limit their legal liability and ensure the most positive reputation in the modern consumer and business-to-business marketplace.

GLTaC, Inc. is a leading provider of language services to over 2,000 global businesses. Visit our homepage to learn about our approach to translation quality.



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