Automation Can’t Happen Fast Enough

Humane Treatment

The way humanity treats fellow members of the species is just horrifying.

Automation will help prevent some of the mistreatment that humans perform on each other; however, one has to wonder exactly what is going to happen when this relief happens – what next?

Case in point – the garment industry in Bangladesh.

Workers protested making substandard wages ($66 a month) and requested $200 a month. Instead of sitting down at a table and holding a discussion – the police were called. A total of 150,000 workers went on strike. This is no fringe movement. Imagine the amount of work it takes to get 2 people to agree to something and you get an understanding of what it takes to get 150,000 people to agree to do something – especially something that ends up causing economic harm to yourself.

People were arrested, people were harmed, and 3,500 people lost their livelihood and were fired.

And nothing changed.

This is an industry which needs to be automated out of existence. It is a human rights issue. Fires have killed over 1,000 workers in the United States of America decades ago – and that caused changes to the industry and brought about safety regulations. This still didn’t wipe out sweat shop working conditions in the USA as there are still illegal sweat shops in existence in the USA.

Capitalism Without Oversight

The problem starts in the West. Companies that people spend lots of money on their clothing want to pay the least for the product. They require fixed bid contracting and select the lowest bids. Quality, ethics, or human rights do not factor in the purchasing departments mind.

While there is a lot of “lip service” to ethically created clothing – there isn’t a lot of follow-through.

“Treat others the way you want to be treated.” Doesn’t seem to apply in the logistics and procurement of clothing. It should. While slightly hidden people blithely live in ignorance of the suffering and basically slave labor conditions that accounting creates to encourage large profit margins.

In some ways slaves have advantages over paid employees in a sweat shop environment. Hold on. Hold on. Let me explain.

If a person is a slave, your life is the responsibility of the owner. You are their asset. If you don’t get enough food then you are a lost asset on the balance sheet.

If a person is a wage slave or sweat shop labor and they starve because they don’t have enough money to buy food, the company does not care because there is someone out there who is in worse shape willing to take their place.

This makes the sweat shop laborer a disposable object – like an ink jet printer that the cartridges cost more to replace than the printer originally did.

So, in the article on this Bangladeshi strike the company owners step in and say “We aren’t the problem, we bid and the lowest bid gets the contract and we can only pay the employees so much.” Or something similar. Pleading that they are helpless in the working conditions that they provide.

The problem is that as a collective group all of the garment producing factories need to stand up and require good wages for their people. They need to include in their bids the hourly wages of the workers and present that when one of them decides to undercut everyone else – by paying starvation wages to their workers.

The Future

The fact of the matter is that no wages will be cheaper than paying robotics to produce clothing once the technology is ready for prime time. This can’t happen soon enough. Humans are not slaves. People should not be servants and subservient humans are not useful to the future of humanity.

Going out to dinner is enjoyable, but there are aspects of it that are dark. Waiters and waitresses who are paid far below minimum wages in the hopes of getting tips. While most people pay tips this leads to a situation where a waiter or a waitress are little more than subservient servants to their customers. This model is being pushed out to teachers where the performance of students is tied to teacher wages and increases.

While there is a place for monitoring, observations, and relating that information to wage increases – teaching children isn’t the place for that. Each child is an individual. Children may learn or not learn despite the best efforts of teachers. It isn’t like the teachers are programming computers and the results can be monitored and directly tied to the teachers capability. People are not machines.

The major problem with sweat shop laborers is that when automation comes it will completely wipe out their jobs from existence. If 150,000 sweat shop workers can go on strike I would be there are hundreds of thousands of more sweat shop workers in Bangladesh that didn’t go on strike. Go on strike or not, when automation comes those hundreds of thousands of workers will all be out of work (maybe not all at once).

And part of the problem in Bangladesh is that unemployment and other social services for people not worker are probably fairly substandard compared to the needs of their people. This is why so many people are willing to work for so little. People would rather work for too little than have nothing at all.

So what happens next in Bangladesh (and everywhere) after jobs are automated out of existence? Is someone perhaps going to argue that new jobs are going to come into existence to employ everyone? I don’t think so. The reason automation works is that it reduces costs for the employer making their business more profitable.

In addition, the level of skill and knowledge required for the making of clothing is not similar and not transferable to say – computer programming, automation techniques, or design practices. Most likely people who already are working will be in more demand to provide these services to companies automating the creation of clothing. The other major beneficiary of automation will be college graduates – if they choose their major with return on investment in mind.

So, what will happen to the hundreds of thousands of unemployed and for the most part unemployable people?

Two Models of the Future

  1. UBI (Universal Basic Income) – where people who don’t have a job are paid enough to ensure that they have a roof over their head, have medical coverage, and have enough money for food and education. Through education a certain percentage of people on UBI will graduate to working.
  2. The world as it is at present. Unemployment may exist and be temporary in nature. There is no health insurance or those that are unemployed – unless they can afford it and if they aren’t working I’m sure they can’t afford it. Education is pay to play.

In case 1, humanity survives and thrives. People who have been on the bottom tiers of the world can at least live and be comfortable with the hope of better futures.

In case 2, there is no option. These people will die. In a variety of ways.

In countries like Germany the groundwork is already being laid for UBI. These countries value their citizens and want them to survive and thrive. Perhaps, the United States of America will follow, but not until lots of things change. Right now in the present political climate the USA will view UBI as “freeloaders” or perhaps people getting UBI through fraud as commonly alleged against SNAP.

But places like Bangladesh – I don’t know that UBI is even as feasible as it will be in the USA – and I don’t think it is all that probable in the USA – not until a lot of people start suffering.

 

Automation – The Savior – Not The Destroyer

There is a lot of doom and gloom about the future, technology, automation and employment.

Previously, I have written about sweat shops and the coming automation in the making of clothing. Automation faces many hurdles.

One of those hurdles is that the costs have to offer a return on investment compared to traditional manufacturing technologies.

Even if that technology is centuries old. Using people to manufacture clothing – in the present era (starting at least 100 years ago) is the sweat shop. In this recent article it is reported that workers earned £3 an hour to manufacture clothing for high end retailers.

That dress you are wearing – and paid $200 for? The person making it took less than an hour and was paid like $4 for their entire hour.

So, who is making the money? Well, the retailers are making the money – and they apply pressure to the manufacturers to provide the lowest prices.

So, automation. It is going to take jobs. Some jobs need to go away. The sweat shop needs to go away. Ironically, since they pay so little it will take longer before automation penetrates in to this market.

People will not have health care to make that dress.

People will not have enough money to survive to make those jeans.

People will work in dangerous environments with high risk of fire – to make those undies.

It needs to stop.

Oh, and just a side note. There is a reason we have regulations and laws. It is because businesses cannot be trusted to behave in an ethical manner. You can complain about the costs to businesses because of all these regulations, but the fact of the matter is that businesses as a whole will reduce costs to the lowest they can regardless of industry and will break rules, behave unethically and endanger the lives of their customers and employees simply to maximize profits.

So, the ship where we have low number of regulations and laws and people are treated well – that ship has sailed. The ship we are on now, where you have to document workers hours, how much you paid them, and are forced to treat them properly – because you have to (not because you choose to – that is the ship we are on now.

The Future of Clothing

The future of clothing is more than just the future of clothing. There is social impact of who makes the clothing, under what conditions, how much money do they make, and what happens to the makers of clothing.

In 1911 in my local home area of New York City there was a fire that killed 146 people. It was at a garment factory – two are known to have been 14-year-old girls. This was a culture changing event – inflaming needs for unions, worker safety, and city, state and federal standards for safety in the work place.

It seems, though, that lessons of garment workers, fires, standards, wages, and safety are not worldwide. Defying all rules for the dispersal of information and geography, in 2012 in Bangladesh killed 117 people and over 200 people injured.  The company produced clothes for lots of different organizations that United States consumers purchase.

Once again, in order to avoid the flames people jumped from the building rather than burn to death.

On 24 April 2013 a building housing multiple clothing manufacturers collapsed killing 1100 workers and injuring 2000 others.

The garment making market has been known for ages for “sweatshops” oriented toward clothing manufacture. Associated with horrible working conditions, low pay, no benefits, and easily threatened workers by management – this practice has not disappeared over time. In fact, as demand for goods (and low prices) has continued the practice has simply become more widespread.

Technology is the answer. This article indicates that 3D printing may offer clothing. It shows a few examples. However; based on the sheer manufacturing output 3D printing would have to vastly improve before it would replace much of the garment manufacturing throughput. Still, it is out there. It is happening. It has created real clothing. Perhaps one day it will be part of the answer to poor labor conditions in the garment industry.

There is automation in the garment manufacture industry. These robots might also be part of the answer. Still, though, the reason people are still making clothing is because clothing is tough to deal with – floppy, with lots of curves cut in to it – and it is hard to cut cloth without some tension. This technology solves the floppy unpredictable nature of clothing by making the cloth stiff.

There is some concern about job losses due to automation, but in this case, let the jobs go. No one needs to be treated like cogs in a machine, with no healthcare, and no future.

So, the future of clothing, involves not just the future of clothes and their manufacture, but the jobs, how people are treated and hopefully the end of the “sweatshop”.