Rise of robots fuels slavery threat for Asian factory workers

A visitor shakes hands with a humanoid robot at 2018 China International Robot Show in Shanghai, China on July 4, 2018. (Tang Yanjun/CNS via REUTERS)
Updated 12 July 2018
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Rise of robots fuels slavery threat for Asian factory workers

  • Drastic job losses due to the growth of automation in Southeast Asia could produce a spike in labor abuses and slavery in global supply chains, said risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft.
  • More than half of workers in Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines — at least 137 million people — risk losing their jobs to automation in the next two decades, the ILO says.

LONDON: The rise of robots in manufacturing in Southeast Asia is likely to fuel modern slavery as workers who end up unemployed due to automation face abuses competing for a shrinking pool of low-paid jobs in a “race to the bottom,” analysts said on Thursday.
Drastic job losses due to the growth of automation in the region — a hub for many manufacturing sectors from garments to vehicles — could produce a spike in labor abuses and slavery in global supply chains, said risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft.
More than half of workers in Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines — at least 137 million people — risk losing their jobs to automation in the next two decades, the United Nations’ International Labour Organization (ILO) says.
The risk of slavery tainting supply chains will spiral as workers who lose their jobs due to increased robot manufacturing will be more vulnerable to workplace abuses as they jostle for fewer jobs at lower wages, said Alexandra Channer of Maplecroft.
“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,” she said.
“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 head of human rights at Britain-based Maplecroft said in a statement.
Farming, forestry and fishing, manufacturing, construction, retail and hospitality are the sectors in Southeast Asia where workers are most likely to be replaced by robots, Maplecroft said in an annual report, with Vietnam the country at most risk.
Workers in the garment, textile and footwear industry — mostly women in countries such as Cambodia and Vietnam — face the biggest threat from automation in the region, Maplecroft said.
The five countries the report lists are already considered high-risk for modern slavery as labor abuses are rife, wages low and the workforce dependent on low-skilled jobs, the firm said, with automation set to make things worse.
“Automation has always posed a risk to low-skilled jobs, but governments and business can determine how it impacts on workers,” said Cindy Berman of the Ethical Trading Initiative, a group of unions, firms and charities promoting workers’ rights.
“Technology can be disrupting, but it can also be part of the solution by creating opportunities for better jobs,” its head of slavery strategy told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.


Pakistan is rapidly becoming a “digital-first country”, Google

Updated 18 November 2018
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Pakistan is rapidly becoming a “digital-first country”, Google

  • Pakistan digital growth is supported by population and increasing penetration of internet, IT experts
  • Prime Minister’s Taskforce on IT and Telecom to meet next week to draw comprehensive policy

KARACHI: Destine to become the fourth fastest growing economy by 2030, Pakistan, supported by a growing population, fast growing business and increasing penetration of Internet, is poised to grab first position among the digital economies, Information Technology (IT) experts say.
US technology giant, Google, says Pakistan is quickly becoming a “digital-first country”, which means there are new opportunities for brands to reach and engage with consumers that may have previously been overlooked.
“It shows that Google has realized the marketing potential of the country and they are now encouraging businesses to focus on Pakistan as a potential market,” Badar Khushnood, vice president of growth at Fishry.Com and vice chairman of [email protected], commented.
According to Google, there are five reasons for “considering expanding your digital campaigns into Pakistan”.
Pakistan’s growing population is the first reason that makes the country attractive for the foreign and local investors to venture into the IT sector.
“Pakistan has a population of more than 202 million people, which means there are lot of potential consumers coming online every day. And the country is even more urbanized than neighboring India, with nearly 40 percent of total households living in cities,” writes Lars Anthonizen, head of large customer marketing, South Asia, Google.
Pakistan’s economy grew by 5.7 percent in fiscal year 2018. HSBC in is recent report published in September 2018 has projected Pakistan to become the fourth fastest growing economy by 2030.
Around 90 percent of the companies in the country are SMEs which are contributing more that 40 percent to the country’s 313 billion economy, according to the State Bank of Pakistan.
Third attraction, according to Google, is the country’s growing smart phone users. Pakistan has 152 million cellar subscribers, and 60 million 3G/4G subscribers, according to Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA).
This number will likely grow quickly as smart phone prices have dropped over the last few years. Pakistan also has some of the cheapest data prices in the world, which is helping to grow mobile app usage, according to Google.
However, experts say more work is needed to be done to fully utilize the existing potential. “We need to work on optic fibers, penetration of 4G, creation of data centers, telecom infrastructure and most importantly creation of awareness among masses,” Pervaiz Iftikhar, a member of the newly formed prime minister’s Taskforce on IT and Telecom, told Arab News.
Pakistan’s overall Internet penetration stands at 29.9 percent with 62 million broadband subscribers, a fourth attraction for the investor, as per Google. In spite of this, digital consumption in the country continues to grow quickly. YouTube watch time, for example, has seen over 60 percent growth over the last three years.
The Chinese-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is the largest Chinese investment venture in Pakistan with around $62 billion, a fifth reason to look toward Pakistan.
The mega project under BRI is not only limited to the infrastructure and energy sector but it is also contributing to the growth of the IT sector in Pakistan.
“One of the first CPEC projects is to lay 820 kilometers of fiber-optic cable, connecting more Pakistanis to the Internet. This is in addition to ongoing investments in 3G and 4G network expansions from China Mobile, and the company has already announced plans to invest another $225 million in 4G expansion (bringing its total investment to $2.4 billion),” writes Lars Anthonizen.
“We have to connect every village through fiber optics that will not only create thousands of jobs but would multiply opportunities for the IT business countrywide,” Pervaiz Iftikhar added.
“A lot of potential exists in the IT sector of Pakistan with the young population turning to computers, smart phones and other digital means, and the country offers big market for local and foreign investors”, Jehan Ara, another member of the prime minister’s Taskforce on IT and Telecom and president of [email protected], commented.
Badar Khushnood, who is also former consultant of Google, Facebook and Twitter, called for comprehensive policy for the growth of the IT sector.
“Taxation systems should be rationalized, simplified, and encouraging for startups. The country also needs data protection laws, and broader cyber laws,” he added.
The first meeting of the prime minister’s Task Force on IT and Telecom is expected to be held next week in Islamabad. “Comprehensive strategy including short term and long term measures would be discussed in the upcoming meeting of taskforce because country needs a policy for the persistent growth of IT and Telecom sector”, Pervaiz Iftikhar informed.