Foxconn to Replace Beleaguered Workers with Robots

by Matt Klassen on March 30, 2015

Although the tech industry is still woefully dependent on under paid, over-worked labourers in some far off country to assemble the gadgets many in the developed world simply can’t live without, it seems all that is about to change, as infamous tech manufacturer Foxconn plans to automate 70% of its workforce in the next three years. The announcement has been widely lauded as a positive move by both economists and labour rights groups, who respectively note that deploying robots could save the company a significant amount of money and ease tensions related to working conditions.

For years Foxconn has been exploring ways of automating its production process, but until now the conclusion has always been that the delicate assembly of our favourite iPhones and iPads demanded the precise touch of an over-worked, beleaguered human hand, but it seems finally the company has found a way to produce a “robot army” to reduce labour costs as well as increase manufacturing efficiency.

But of course such automation raises labour rights issues of its own, most notably, the right to actually have work to do and get paid for, for as the manufacturing industry increasingly turns to robots the world will be faced with a significant increase in unemployment, as people who have long fed their families through being part of the manufacturing process will now find themselves largely obsolete…and that could be more disastrous to the human psyche than any menial job ever could be.

Some might say that in relation to the unacceptable working conditions along the various supply lines that fuel the growing tech industry that I would like to have my cake and eat it too; to see an industry that is able to respect its workers, to treat them like humans, yet still produce affordable technology in a reasonable amount of time, and I’ll say, perhaps they’re right.

But that said, I don’t think my expectation of a paradigm altering shift of the tech manufacturing industry is really beyond the realm of possibility; all it will take is our acceptance here at home that our favourite gadgets actually cost more than we’re paying for them, once you factor in non-slave wages for those who actually make them of course.

It is with that in mind that I cringe at stories of increased robotic automation in the manufacturing industry, as it doesn’t really solve the extant problem of unacceptable working conditions, fair pay, and basic human rights facing some of the world’s most vulnerable workers, it simply kicks said workers out onto the street, robs them of their only means of income, and ignores the problem completely.

Now I fully understand that I’m fighting a losing battle against robotic automation. We will have self-driving cars, we will have a largely automated manufacturing process, and we will soon lose control of the very robots we built, but let’s not forget that this unabated charge towards technological progress will leave uncountable victims in its wake; those who dedicate themselves to manufacturing the goods we take for granted, those who endure inhumane working conditions in order to feed their families, and those who simply don’t have other options for employment.

So while Foxconn’s announcement that it will automate 70% of its workforce over the next three years may prevent any more depressed, overworked, and beleaguered employees from throwing themselves off Foxconn factory roofs in fits of despair, what we’ll be left with are thousands, if not millions, of unemployed still wrestling with that same profound sense of meaningless, likely forgotten again because they’re no longer making the iPhones and iPads we love.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. Follow by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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