Urban Forum

, Volume 23, Issue 1, pp 23–42 | Cite as

The Economic Geography of South Africa’s Call Centre Industry

  • Wayde R. Pandy
  • Christian M. RogersonEmail author


Over the past two decades, scholarship on call centres has grown with contributions from a range of disciplines including management science, urban studies, organisation studies and sociology. One aspect of call centres that has received only limited attention is their location or economic geography. This article contributes to the growing body of scholarship on call centres by investigating locational issues in the case of the developing economy of South Africa. The study highlights the critical importance for call centre location of access to labour, labour costs, public transport and availability of suitable premises. Current government incentives have little significance on location, a factor which underlies the strong concentration of call centres in South Africa’s major cities, in particular Johannesburg and Cape Town.


BPO&O Call centres South Africa Location Economic geography 



Thanks are due to Wendy Job for preparing all the figures, Andy Quinan for locational data, Rod Jones and the Call Centre Management Group for survey support, Roland Witham for assistance on industry research sources, and for comments received from referees and Skye Norfolk. The University of Johannesburg provided research funding support. Usual disclaimers apply.


  1. Agrawal, S., Goswani, K., & Chatterjee, B. (2010). The evolution of offshore outsourcing in India. Global Business Review, 11, 239–256.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Benner, C. (2006). ‘South Africa on call’: Information technology and labour market restructuring in South African call centres. Regional Studies, 40, 1025–1040.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Benner, C., Lewis, C., & Omar, R. (2007). The South African call centre industry: A study of strategy, human resource practices and performances. Johannesburg: University of Witwatersrand Link Centre.Google Scholar
  4. Bishop, P., Gripaios, P., & Bristow, G. (2003). Determinants of call centre location: Some evidence from UK urban areas. Urban Studies, 40, 2751–2768.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Breatnach, P. (2000). Globalisation, information technology and the emergence of niche transnational cities: The growth of the call centre sector in Dublin. Geoforum, 31, 477–485.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bristow, G., Munday, M., & Gripaios, P. (2000). Call centre growth and location: Corporate strategy and the spatial division of labour. Environment and Planning A, 32, 519–538.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. C3 Africa Research (2008). National BPO & call centre report 2007/2008. Sandton: Multimedia Group and C3 Africa Research.Google Scholar
  8. (2009). Springfield contact centre industry white paper. Sydney: Scholar
  9. City of Cape Town. (2006). Economic and human development strategy: part 2—Implementation plan. Cape Town: City of Cape Town Economic and Human Development Department.Google Scholar
  10. City of Johannesburg (2008). Sector support business processing outsourcing and offshoring sector: Progress report. Report prepared for City of Johannesburg Mayoral Committee 2008-03 Department of Economic Development.Google Scholar
  11. Deloitte (2008). Contact centres and business process outsourcing in Cape Town: 2007/8 key indicator report. Report prepared for Calling the Cape, Cape Town.Google Scholar
  12. DTI. (2005). Business process outsourcing and offshoring: Sector development strategy. Pretoria: DTI.Google Scholar
  13. DTI (2008a). BPO&O Investment Incentive: Programme Guidelines, available at
  14. DTI (2008b). BPO&O Investment Incentives: Training Support Grant: Programme Guidelines, available at
  15. DTI. (2011). Industrial Policy Action Plan 2011/12–2013/14. Pretoria: DTI.Google Scholar
  16. DTI, Business Trust, & Business Process Enabling South Africa. (2009). BPO: developing the BPO sector—Report to stakeholders 2009. Johannesburg: The Business Trust.Google Scholar
  17. Ellis, V., & Taylor, P. (2006). ‘You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone’: Re-contextualising the origins, development and impact of the call centre. New Technology, Work and Employment, 21, 107–122.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Free State Development Corporation (2011). The Free State: A rapid growth path. New Agenda, 42. Google Scholar
  19. Ghodswar, B., & Vaidyanathan, J. (2008). Business process outsourcing: An approach to gain access to world-class capabilities. Business Process Management, 14, 23–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Gupta, S., Bhattacharya, T., Agrawal, S., Xu, H., & Garg, M. (2010). Offshoring dynamics: Implications for India as an attractive offshore location. International Journal of Indian Culture and Business Management, 3, 307–322.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hannif, Z., Burgess, J., & Connell, J. (2008). Call centres and the quality of work: Towards a research agenda. Journal of Industrial Relations, 50, 271–284.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hastings, T. M. (2011). A job worth doing? Reinterpreting control, resistance and everyday forms of coping and call centre work in Glasgow. Unpublished Ph D. thesis, University of Glasgow.Google Scholar
  23. Jensen, P. D. O., & Pedersen, T. (2011). The economic geography of offshoring: The fit between activities and local context. Journal of Management Studies, 48, 352–372.Google Scholar
  24. Jones, R. (2010). Interview. Independent Contact Industry Specialist, Johannesburg 29 September.Google Scholar
  25. Karlsson, S., & Marriott, I. (2008). Analysis of South Africa as an offshore location. Report ID No.: G00161138 of Gartner Inc, Stamford CT.Google Scholar
  26. Kennedy, K. (2004). Creating employment and economic wealth through developing the South African BPO& O sector. Paper prepared for the Presidency/ComMark Sector Workshop 5 November, Johannesburg.Google Scholar
  27. Markusen, J. R. (2007). Trade and foreign direct investment in business services: a modeling approach. Paper presented at European Central Bank conference ‘Globalization and the Macroeconomy’, Frankfurt, 23–24 July.Google Scholar
  28. Massini, S., &, Miozzo, M. (2010). Outsourcing and offshoring of business services: challenges in theory, management and geography of innovation. Paper presented at the conference ‘The role of business services for innovation, internationalization and growth’, Rome, 2–3 December.Google Scholar
  29. McKinsey & Company (2005). South Africa calling: South Africa’s global business process outsourcing & offshoring opportunity: Headline report—June 2005. Report prepared for jointly the City of Johannesburg, The ComMark Trust and The South Africa Foundation.Google Scholar
  30. Messenger, J., & Ghosheh, N. (Eds.). (2010). Offshoring and working conditions in remote work. Geneva: International Labour Office.Google Scholar
  31. Naidoo, R., & Neville, M. (2005). Call centres/business process outsourcing (BPOs) first paper: Current situational analysis of the call centres/BPOs sector in the Western Cape. Report prepared for the Department of Economic Development & Tourism, Western Cape Province.Google Scholar
  32. Oshri, I., Kolarsky, J., Rottman, J. W., & Willcocks, L. L. (2009). Global sourcing: Recent trends and issues. Information Technology & People, 22, 192–200.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Paladin Consulting (2003). International outsourcing: Market overview. Unpublished report Paladin Consulting, Johannesburg.Google Scholar
  34. Paladin Consulting and Consulta Research (2004). Research Study into the BPO& O/call centre industry of South Africa: CSP detailed analysis report. Report prepared for Trade and Investment South Africa, a division of the DTI, Pretoria.Google Scholar
  35. Paulet, R. (2004). Putting call centres in their place. Labour and Industry, 14(3), 77–89.Google Scholar
  36. Paulet, R. (2008). Location matters: The impact of place on call centres. Journal of Industrial Relations, 50, 305–318.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Penter, K., Pervan, G., & Wreford, J. (2009). Offshore BPO at large captive operations in India. Information, Technology & People, 22, 201–222.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Pirie, G. H. (2007). Reanimating a Comatose goddess’: Reconfiguring central Cape Town. Urban Forum, 18, 125–152.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Quest Staffing (2009). A tale of two cities: The quest for urban dominance in the South African BPO sector. Unpublished report Quest Flexible Staffing Solutions, Johannesburg.Google Scholar
  40. Ramesh, B. P. (2004). Cyber coolies in BPO: Insecurities and vulnerabilities in non-standard work. Economic and Political Weekly, 39, 492–497.Google Scholar
  41. Richardson, R., & Bell, V. (2001). Saved by the bell? Call centres and economic development in less favoured regions. Economic and Industrial Democracy, 22, 67–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Richardson, R., & Marshall, J. N. (1996). The growth of telephone call centres in peripheral areas of Britain: Evidence from Tyne and Wear. Area, 28, 308–317.Google Scholar
  43. Richardson, R., Belt, V., & Marshall, N. (2000). Taking calls to Newcastle: The regional implications of the growth of call centres. Regional Studies, 34, 357–369.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Rodolfo, C. S. (2006). Expanding RP–US linkages in business process outsourcing. Makati City: Philippines Institute for Development Studies, Discussion Paper Series No. 2006-10Google Scholar
  45. Rogerson, C. M. (2005). Globalization, economic restructuring and local response in Johannesburg—the most isolated ‘world city’. In K. Segbers, S. Raiser’, & K. Volkmann (Eds.), Public problems—private solutions? (pp. 17–34). Aldershot: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  46. Rogerson, C. M. (2011). Tracking local economic development policy and practice in South Africa 1994–2009. Urban Forum, 22, 149–168.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Rowthorn, R. (2010). Combined and uneven development: Reflections on the North–South divide. Spatial Economic Analysis, 5, 363–388.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Russell, B. (2008). Unions in the information economy: Infoservice work and organizing in Australian call centres. Journal of Industrial Relations, 50, 285–303.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Sass, M., & Fifekova, M. (2011). Offshoring and outsourcing business services to Central and Eastern Europe: Some empirical and conceptual considerations. European Planning Studies, 19, 1593–1609.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Siseko se‐Afrika Enterprise (2007). Definition of criteria for designating areas for 2nd economy BPO&O and the schedule of designated areas. Unpublished report for the Business Process Outsourcing and Off‐Shoring Sector Support Programme, Pretoria and Johannesburg.Google Scholar
  51. Surborg, B. (2011). World cities are just “basing points for capital”: Interacting with the world city from the global South. Urban Forum, 22, 315–330.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Taylor, P., & Bain, P. (1999). “An assembly line in the head”: Work and employee relations in the call centre. Industrial Relations Journal, 30, 101–117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Taylor, P., & Bain, P. (2001). Trade unions, worker rights and the frontier of control in UK call centres. Economic and Industrial Democracy, 22, 39–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Taylor, P., & Bain, P. (2005). ‘India calling to the far away towns’: The call centre labour process and globalization. Work, Employment and Society, 19, 261–282.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Taylor, P., D’Cruz, P., Noronha, E., & Scholarios, D. (2009). Indian call centres and business process outsourcing: A study in union formation. New Technology, Work and Employment, 24, 19–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Vincent, R., & McKeown, L. (2008). Trends in the telephone call centre industry. Ottawa: Statistics Canada.Google Scholar
  57. Vira, B., & James, A. (2011). Researching hybrid ‘economic’/‘development’ geographies in practice: Methodological reflections from a collaborative project on India’s new service economy. Progress in Human Geography, 35, 627–651.Google Scholar
  58. Visser, G., & Kotze, N. (2008). The state and new-build gentrification in central Cape Town, South Africa. Urban Studies, 45, 2565–2593.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Waema, T. M., Odera, G., Adeya-Weya, C. N. A., Were, P., Masinde, E. M., Chepken, C., et al. (2009). Development of a business process outsourcing industry in Kenya: Critical success factors. Policy brief submitted to the International Development Research Centre, Ottawa IDRC Grant No. 104488-001.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Geography, Environmental Management & Energy StudiesUniversity of JohannesburgJohannesburgSouth Africa
  2. 2.School of Tourism and Hospitality, Faculty of ManagementUniversity of JohannesburgJohannesburgSouth Africa

Personalised recommendations