Apple and Samsung supplier Foxconn has replaced 60,000 factory workers with robots. Foxconn Technology Group confirmed that it was automating “many of the manufacturing tasks associated with our operations” but denied that it meant long-term job losses.
Foxconn is headquartered in Taiwan, but has 12 factories in China, where it produces popular devices like the iPhone and iPad, along with a number of others. Kunshan, Jiangsu province is a manufacturing hub for the electronics industry.
Roughly 600 companies in the Kunshan region are reportedly looking to reduce headcount with robots, as part of an effort to accelerate growth and reduce costs, according to the South China Morning Post, which cited data from the Kunshan government.
‘The Foxconn factory has reduced its employee strength from 110,000 to 50,000, thanks to the introduction of robots. It has tasted success in reduction of labour costs,’ official told to media. ‘We will continue to harness automation and manpower in our manufacturing operations, and we expect to maintain our significant workforce in China,’ officials added.
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.
Since September 2014, 505 factories across Dongguan, in the Guangdong province, have invested 4.2bn yuan (£430m) in robots, aiming to replace thousands of workers.
Former McDonald’s chief executive Ed Rensi recently told the US’s Fox Business programme a minimum-wage increase to $15 an hour would make companies consider robot workers.
Amazon.com Inc. is one such U.S. company that has been increasingly employing robots, with thousands shuffling around and sorting items in its fulfillment centers. Auto manufacturers have used robots to assemble cars in the U.S. for years.
Economists have issued dire warnings about how automation will affect the job market, with one report, from consultants Deloitte in partnership with Oxford University, suggesting that 35% of jobs were at risk over the next 20 years.