The garment, textile and footwear industry is particularly at risk of automation ©DPA/PA Images
The garment, textile and footwear industry is particularly at risk of automation ©DPA/PA Images

Automation could cause slavery risk to ‘spiral’

Automation will lead to a “spiral” in modern slavery risk unless firms sourcing from South East Asia prepare their supply chains.

In its annual Human Rights Outlook, Verisk Maplecroft warned “drastic” job losses caused by robot manufacturing were predicted to cause “a spike in slavery and labour abuses” over the next 20 years.

It said more than half of jobs across the ASEAN-5 countries of Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Philippines and Thailand could be lost to automation, which could push already at-risk supply chain workers into forced labour.

“Given the baseline of exploitation across the ASEAN-5 and the numbers of workers affected, we predict the risk of slavery and trafficking will spiral as workers compete for a diminishing supply of low-skilled and low-paid jobs,” the report said.Eliminate supply chain slavery logo

Alexandra Channer, head of human rights at Verisk Maplecroft, said without “concrete measures” to educate future workforces to work alongside machines, there could be a “race to the bottom”.

She said: “The adoption of automation technologies by companies will be gradual, but the unintended consequences for millions of workers in brand supply chains is like to be severe.

“Responsible sourcing departments in particular need to identify and understand the adverse effect of automation on human rights and work with civil society and governments to mitigate the impact within their own supply chains.”

The report put automation at the top of its list of human rights issues. It quoted figures from the UN International Labour Organization that showed 56% of jobs could be lost to automation across the ASEAN-5. In Vietnam alone 36m people, representing 67% of the workforce, would be forced to find other forms of employment because of automation.

Women are likely to be disproportionately affected because of their high representation in the garment, textile and footwear industry, an area that is particularly at risk of automation, the report said. In Vietnam and Cambodia more than 85% of jobs these sectors are at high risk of automation, and more than one in three (76%) are held by women.

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