How real is robot threat to garment workers?

by Apparel Resources

03-June-2019  |  5 mins read

Garment workers
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President of Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services fears around 60 per cent garment workers will be replaced by robots by 2030

As per an estimate, USA lost around 5.6 million manufacturing jobs between 2000 and 2010. Of this, if 13 per cent of job loss was the result of moving of facilities offshore, 85 per cent of the job losses were due to the productivity growth of robotics and machinery. It further predicts that by 2025, the global average of manufacturing tasks being done by robots will grow from 10 per cent to 25 per cent across all industries.

With labour wages and production costs going up in the textile and garment sector, more and more people are now turning to technology and why not? As per experts, a robot working under the guidance of a single human handler, can make as many shirts per hour as about 17 humans.

This trend in not restricted to the West only! According to some, technology would have a major impact on the Asian manufacturing industries that have been leveraging cheaper wages so far. Estimates by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) underline that robots will replace around 64 per cent of textiles, clothing and footwear workers in Indonesia, 86 per cent in Vietnam and 88 per cent in Cambodia.

It may be mentioned here that World Bank President Jim Yong Kim in a conference last year maintained that about two-thirds of jobs in the developing world may be lost due to automation, while an ILO report on textile and clothing sector in ASEAN underlined that the textile, clothing and footwear (TCF) sector is at the highest risk of losing jobs to automation.

The second biggest apparel exporter globally, Bangladesh, does not seem to be an exception either. As per a top Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services (Basis) official, around 60 per cent of garment workers in Bangladesh will lose their jobs by 2030 and will be replaced by robots because of the automation installed by the factory owners.

“…evidence increasingly suggests that while large parts of many jobs will be subject to automation, relatively a few jobs will be really completely automated. This is very alarming for Bangladesh…,” maintained President of Basis, Syed Almas Kabir while presenting a keynote paper on Fourth Industrial Revolution – Preparations, at a meeting in Dhaka recently.

As per him, leather sector – the next most potential sector in terms of exports after RMG – is expected to be impacted as well with around 35 per cent workers engaged in the labour industry likely to be replaced by robots.

At this event organised by the Bangladesh-Malaysia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BMCCI) and attended by diplomats, Government officials, exporters and importers, Salman F Rahman, private industry and investment affairs adviser to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, called upon the entrepreneurs to prepare themselves to face the challenges of the fourth industrial revolution.

“The challenges poised to be created due to the fourth industrial revolution will be extremely tough. We need to adopt and model our own network in line with those latest technologies,” Rahman said, while Amir Farid Abu Hasan, acting Malaysian High Commissioner to Bangladesh on his part observed, “We see changes in the mode of production, having huge impacts on the job market and economy. Traditional jobs are in danger of no longer being relevant as new occupational requirements are needed.” Hasan as such stressed on skill development and policy changes to fill the gaps rising out of the fourth industrial revolution.

“I cannot deny that Governments need to take immediate action to avoid the risk of unemployment due to this robotic revolution,” the acting Malaysian High Commissioner underlined.

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