President Donald Trump and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker are touting plans by a Chinese technology firm with a checkered past that plans to open a $10 billion facility in the state, reportedly creating 13,000 jobs in 2020.
As CNN reports, “Foxconn’s estimate on jobs was more conservative. In a statement, the company said the project will create 3,000 jobs with the ‘potential’ to generate up to 13,000 new jobs.”
Trump and Walker ought to read the fine print.
What few politicians are mentioning is how Foxconn routinely replaces workers with robots. When it comes to people, the company has been the focus of several investigations on inhumane treatment of employees.
Interpersonal Divide in the Age of the Machine covers Foxconn as well as chapters on robotics replacing humans at the workplace:
In 2016, Foxconn Technology Group, an Apple and Samsung supplier in China, replaced 60,000 workers with robots. If any country should be concerned about automation, China might top that list with its population of 1.35 billion people. In reporting the mass firing—a population larger than Pensacola, Florida—the British Broadcasting Company noted that 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.” See: http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-36376966
Foxconn also has a dubious past associated with forced labor, as this New York Times investigation revealed. There was even a rash of suicides associated with Foxconn, as another Times story disclosed in 2010. While the company has made significant progress in employee work environments, its interest in robotics hasn’t waned or been extensively reported of late in the U.S. media.
This is an essential discussion as the state of Wisconsin may be paying as much as $2 billion in incentives, according to a report in the Chicago Tribune. The Tribune was one of the few U.S. newspapers to cite the mass firing of Foxconn workers in China to increase profit by replacing them with robots.
In some sense, given allegations in the past on how Foxconn treated its employees, as if they weren’t human, perhaps using robots has more appeal.
In any case, journalists need to monitor how robotics are going to be used in the Wisconsin facility. They should cite how the company uses them in other facilities around the globe. Why would a Midwestern state be any different when it comes to the bottom line?
After all, robots don’t need health care. They don’t commit suicide or complain about slave labor. (In fact, there is an offensive technology term for this trait.) What they do, primarily, is replace workers, degrade existing jobs, lower wages and reduce incomes (and hence taxes), leading to budget shortfalls in the name of corporate profit. In this case, those profits go to China’s coffers and not American ones.