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.


Microsoft urges regulation of face-recognizing tech

Updated 15 July 2018
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Microsoft urges regulation of face-recognizing tech

  • Microsoft and other tech companies have used facial recognition technology for years for tasks such as organizing digital photographs
  • While the technology can be used for good, perhaps finding missing children or known terrorists, it can also be abused

SAN FRANCISCO: Microsoft’s chief legal officer on Friday called for regulation of facial recognition technology due to the risk to privacy and human rights.
Brad Smith made a case for a government initiative to lay out rules for proper use of facial recognition technology, with input from a bipartisan and expert commission.
Facial recognition technology raises significant human rights and privacy concerns, Smith said in a blog post.
“Imagine a government tracking everywhere you walked over the past month without your permission or knowledge,” he said.
“Imagine a database of everyone who attended a political rally that constitutes the very essence of free speech.”
It could become possible for businesses to track visitors or customers, using what they see for decisions regarding credit scores, lending decisions, or employment opportunities without telling people.
He said scenarios portrayed in fictional films such as “Minority Report,” “Enemy of the State,” and even the George Orwell dystopian classic “1984” are “on the verge of becoming possible.”
“These issues heighten responsibility for tech companies that create these products,” Smith said.
“In our view, they also call for thoughtful government regulation and for the development of norms around acceptable uses.”
Microsoft and other tech companies have used facial recognition technology for years for tasks such as organizing digital photographs.
But the ability of computers to recognize people’s faces is improving rapidly, along with the ubiquity of cameras and the power of computing hosted in the Internet cloud to figure out identities in real time.
While the technology can be used for good, perhaps finding missing children or known terrorists, it can also be abused.
“It may seem unusual for a company to ask for government regulation of its products, but there are many markets where thoughtful regulation contributes to a healthier dynamic for consumers and producers alike,” Smith said.
“It seems especially important to pursue thoughtful government regulation of facial recognition technology, given its broad societal ramifications and potential for abuse.”
Concerns about misuse prompted Microsoft to “move deliberately” with facial recognition consulting or contracting, according to Smith.
“This has led us to turn down some customer requests for deployments of this service where we’ve concluded that there are greater human rights risks,” Smith said.