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LONDON – 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 concludes 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,” claims 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.

Says the report: “With the UN’s International Labour Organization (ILO) estimating that over the next two decades 56 per cent of workers in the manufacturing hubs of Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam will lose their jobs due to automation, the risk of slavery and trafficking appearing in supply chains will spiral, says the report.

“This grouping of countries, known as the ASEAN-5, are particularly at risk due to the dependence of the workforce on low-skilled jobs and existing high levels of labour rights violations. All are currently rated as ‘high risk’ countries in Verisk Maplecroft’s Modern Slavery Index, but their rankings and scores are forecast to deteriorate when the full impact of automation is felt.”

Another trend the report motes is the rising threat of violence against and criminalisation of human rights defenders, and the emerging efforts to guide how business responds to the problem. “We highlight this issue because it exposes business to two of the most severe impacts possible, the loss of life or the loss of freedom,” says the report. “We look at the increasing number of rich datasets being collected by civil society, and combine that with our data about countries, to try to understand where and why defenders are likely to be killed or criminalised.”

The report also assesses the growing impact financial institutes are having on the sustainability debate. It adds: “We argue that BlackRock’s statement linking a firm’s growth potential to how it manages its social impact is a tipping point, signalling the growing importance of this concept in the investor community. Following on from this assumption, we look at the work being done by stock exchanges to promote – and in a few cases require – listed companies to report on their environmental, social and governance performance.”


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