Asia – Arrival of robot workers predicted to lead to a surge in slavery and labour abuses, research finds

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Robot manufacturing is expected to cause drastic job losses and lead to a spike in slavery and labour abuses in global supply chains, according to a study from supply chain analyst firm Verisk Maplecroft.

The report suggested that governments should take early measures to prevent automation threatening millions of livelihoods.

According to Versik Maplecroft, automation tops a list of five issues in the annual Human Rights Outlook, which are identified as presenting significant challenges to the reputations, operations and supply chains of multinational companies now and in the future.

“With the UN’s International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimating that over the next two decades 56% of workers in the manufacturing hubs of Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam will lose their jobs due to automation, the risk of slavery and trafficking appearing in supply chains will spiral,” the report stated.

“This grouping of countries, known as the ASEAN-5, are particularly at risk due to the dependence of the workforce on low-skilled jobs and existing high levels of labour rights violations. All are currently rated as ‘high risk’ countries in Verisk Maplecroft’s Modern Slavery Index, but their rankings and scores are forecast to deteriorate when the full impact of automation is felt,” the report stated.

Verisk Maplecroft’s Head of Human Rights, Alexandra Channer, commented, “Displaced workers without the skills to adapt or the cushion of social security will have to compete for a diminishing supply of low-paid, low-skilled work in what will likely be an increasingly exploitative environment. Without concrete measures from governments to adapt and educate future generations to function alongside machines, it could be a race to the bottom for many workers.”

The report applied its industry-specific labour risk indices to the ILO data across 21 sectors where jobs are at high risk of replacement by automation. The sectors where the risk is highest are identified as agriculture, forestry and fishing; manufacturing; construction; retail; and hospitality. Vietnam was flagged as the highest risk of the five countries studied, where 67% of workers, or 36 million people, will be seeking alternative livelihoods in an environment where the risk of exploitation is already high.

Verisk Maplecroft singled out the garment, textile and footwear industry as being at particular risk from automation within the ASEAN-5.The industry employs 59% of all manufacturing workers in Cambodia and 39% in Vietnam. Any job displacement from this sector will therefore impact a large proportion of the entire manufacturing workforce, the majority of whom are women.

The Guardian reports that robots are already in production and will be able to help produce cars, electronics and new machinery. Robots are also set to replace humans in the farming and sewing industries.


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