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Xin Fang Garment Factory in Cambodia
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Girls & Women

Replacing Workers With Robots Will Increase Trafficking and Slavery: Report

Job automation in Southeast Asia is expected not only to result in lost jobs, but in increased human trafficking and slavery rates, according to new research.

A report published by consulting firm Verisk Maplecroft on Thursday looks at the effects of job losses in Southeast Asia resulting from the onset of robot manufacturing.

"There has been a lot of discussion about the impact of robot automation on jobs but less on the resulting human rights abuses that are likely to follow," Dr. Alex Channer, analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, told the Guardian.

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"We know that in a couple of decades, robot manufacturing will replace many low-skill jobs," Channer continued. "Displaced workers without the skills or capacity to adapt will have to compete for a rapidly diminishing supply of low-paid work in potentially exploitative conditions. This will lead to increased risks of slavery and trafficking across a region already vulnerable to these kind of abuses."

The United Nations International Labour Organization anticipates that 56% of workers in manufacturing centres in Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam could lose their jobs in the next 20 years.

Industrial automation is already well underway worldwide.

Robots are now being used in farming roles and a "sewbot" factory will soon open in the United States — and each sewbot can do 10 times the work of a single person, according to the Guardian.

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Citibank analysts have also suggested that automation could cut labour costs in half for footwear companies.

Everywhere, robot technology is being considered. The key concern here is that as robots replace workers, workers become jobless and therefore more likely to fall into situations where trafficking or slavery are prominent issues.

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"In an environment like Southeast Asia where workers are already vulnerable to labour abuses, increased competition for remaining jobs will see workers having to accept jobs at lower wages, pay more in recruitment fees and be forced to work in more dangerous and exploitative workplaces," Channer told the Guardian.

The fishing sector in Thailand is already linked to slavery and labour violations, as is the electronics industry in Malaysia.

In fact, a Verité report from 2014 reported that almost one third of migrant workers in Malaysia's electronics industry were in forced labour.

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Verisk Maplecroft’s research indicated that Vietnam would be most affected by job losses, with an estimated 36 million people set to lose work.

The report also suggested that women will be especially vulnerable to the effects of automation in the garment, textile, and footwear industry. In Vietnam and Cambodia, 85% of these jobs could be eliminated and more than 75% of the workers there are women, according to the Guardian.