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The growth of automation in the supply chain increases the risks of exploitative work and modern slavery, according to a report by Verisk Maplecroft, a global risks research company.

Once machines take over routine tasks and drive down labour costs, workers will be forced to compete for fewer jobs at lower wages—particularly in developing economies.

According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), 56% of workers in five ASEAN countries analysed (Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam) will lose their jobs to automation by 2040.

For example, 2.6 million Vietnamese women could lose their jobs in the garment, textile and footwear industry as factories shift to using “sewbots” instead of human workers.

Automation could have negative consequences

But the shift will affect supply chains worldwide, including those in the US, and opens up the risk of exploitative conditions as workers fight for scraps.

The report highlights the issue of businesses’ responsibility to account for the consequences of automation, and the need to upskill their workforce for technological change. At the very least, Verisk Maplecroft suggests, “responsible sourcing” will require businesses to be aware of “the scope of the impact on millions of workers in supply chains built specifically to service the brand”.

Without preparing and reskilling workers for automation, the situation could “spiral into modern slavery that renders the [UN’s Sustainable Development Goals’] targets irrelevant.”

DHL recently identified automation as a major trend in the future of logistics, but under the umbrella of “digital work” described not only the automation of repetitive tasks (as a good thing), but the need to provide technological training for employees, giving them the skills for alternative jobs.

(Source: Supply Chain Dive)

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