iPhone manufacturer Foxcon is planning to switch many of the repetitive tasks done by its labour force in China to being done by robots. This could be politically even more problematic for them than the rash of suicides at the company’s factories over the past 12 months: China’s government needs jobs in order to maintain its political system.
The Technology Review reports:
“Automation is the beginning of the end of the factory girl, and that’s a good thing,” says David Wolf, a Beijing-based strategic communications and IT analyst. Wolf, who has visited many Chinese factory floors, predicts an eventual labor shift similar to “the decline of seamstresses or the secretarial pool in America.”
Since the announcement, Guo hasn’t offered more details, keeping observers guessing about whether Foxconn’s plans are real. Trade groups also haven’t seen the huge orders for industrial robots that Foxconn would need, although some experts believe the company may be developing its own robots in house.
“Guo has good reasons for not waving his flag about this too much,” says Wolf. Keeping quiet could give Foxconn a jump on competitors. What’s more, with the Chinese economy slowing down, “it is politically inadvisable to talk too much about replacing people with robots,” he says.
China’s leaders see employment as essential to maintaining a harmonious society. The imperative of creating jobs often trumps that of efficiency. For instance, Wang Mengshu, deputy chief engineer at China Railway Tunnel Group, says that labor-saving equipment isn’t always used even when it’s available. “If all the new tunnels were built with the advanced equipment, that would trim the need for the employment of about six million migrant workers,” he says. “In certain fields we don’t want to have fast development in China, in order to solve the national employment problem.”
Click here to read more: Migrant Workers in China Face Competition from Robots – Technology Review.