Foxconn, the largest contract electronics manufacturer in the world, says it has automated away 60,000 jobs in one of its factories, according to the BBC. The cuts are part of an ongoing process to replace humans responsible for “many of the manufacturing tasks associated with our operations” with robots, the company said in a statement. Foxconn helps manufacture Apple’s iPhone and iPad, Samsung’s Galaxy phone line, and Sony’s PlayStation 4, as well as other devices from many of the world’s biggest tech brands.
“We are applying robotics engineering and other innovative manufacturing technologies to replace repetitive tasks previously done by employees, and through training, also enable our employees to focus on higher value-added elements in the manufacturing process, such as research and development, process control and quality control,” the statement reads. “We will continue to harness automation and manpower in our manufacturing operations, and we expect to maintain our significant workforce in China.” The company still employs more than 1.2 million people.
Foxconn says robots are there to “replace repetitive tasks”
Automation is fast becoming a reality for many of the world’s biggest corporations, who are finding the falling costs of purchasing robots and programming those robots to be more attractive than retaining human labor. In the US, the debate is playing out in the form of a $15 an hour minimum wage, with former McDonald’s USA CEO Ed Rensi saying, “It’s cheaper to buy a $35,000 robotic arm than it is to hire an employee who’s inefficient making $15 an hour bagging french fries.”
Overseas, in factories owned by Taiwan-based corporations like Foxconn, the process is accelerating even faster. Proponents of automation say the jobs that will be eliminated first are those that make human workers miserable and that, in the longterm, more valuable positions will open up as more machines replace humans. Notably for Foxconn, which has been mired in controversy for its factory conditions and high rate of worker suicides, robots also present a way to remedy poor public perception without necessarily improving the quality of life of its employees.
However, economists fear the short-term fallout from automation may be a devastating loss of jobs and economic instability. A report, conducted by Deloitte and Oxford University, predict as many as 35 percent of jobs will be automated over the next two decades. An even more telling forecast was made by researchers Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne in their 2013 paper “The Future of Employment,” in which they predicted about 50 percent of jobs will disappear over the next four to five decades.