Fast Retailing automation sees staffing cut by 90 per cent

Mark Lane | 10th October 2018

TOKYO – One of the world’s leading fast fashion brands is to introduce automation in its warehouses which will help it slash staffing levels by 90 per cent. Fast Retailing, the Japanese owner of Uniqlo, has unveiled a new warehouse in the Ariake district of Tokyo where an automated system carries out work such as inspections and sorting apparel goods. The company says the system started full-scaled operations this month, and saw a 90 per cent reduction in staff at the Ariake distribution centre on Tokyo’s waterfront, as well as allowing 24-hour operation.

Fast Retailing’s automated warehouse is claimed to be a completely new type of facility designed and developed specifically for the apparel industry.

“We want to introduce automated warehouses around the world as soon as possible,” said Fast Retailing chief executive Tadashi Yanai.

The automated system transfers products delivered to the warehouse by truck, reads electronic tags attached to the products and confirms their stock numbers and other information, with just a small portion of work needing to be done by employees. The new system is also expected to ensure more timely delivery of products, thus minimising storage costs.

The Fast Retailing Group is working with Daifuku, a global leader in material handling systems on the new system.

The businesses say the aim is the full automation of Fast Retailing Group brand warehouses in Japan and overseas.

As we reported earlier this year, some analysts claim garment supply chains in South East Asia are set for drastic job losses as automation and sewbots come of age in the next few years. Verisk Maplecroft’s Human Rights Outlook 2018 concluded that millions of workers will find themselves jobless and competing for a diminishing supply of decent work, unless their countries start now to re-skill. “The dark side of automation could therefore mean fewer alternatives to exploitative work and a spiral into modern slavery that renders the SDG targets irrelevant,” claimed the report, which says over half of jobs in key Asian manufacturing hubs are under threat.

The report warns of drastic job losses in South East Asia resulting from the onset of robot manufacturing, and that this is predicted to produce a spike in slavery and labour abuses in global supply chains as employers gain the upper hand with more workers fighting for fewer and fewer jobs.