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01.1.2018

The Daily Star: A False Alarm?

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The Daily Star: A False Alarm?

There is no need to panic about large-scale job cuts due to automation in Bangladesh’s apparel industry. While the discussion about automation in the apparel industry merits discussion, we should approach it with a grain of salt as demand for human-made apparel products will still exist. 

Following the visit of robot Sophia to Bangladesh in December last year, there has been a lot of discussion about the possibilities of using automation in industries and its impact on jobs. As the ready-made garment industry is our lifeline, the discussion has mainly been on the impact of automation in the RMG industry.

Most analysts are predicting that there will be huge job cuts in the garment industry in the near future if the industry fully adopts automation. The discussions have created panic among workers and policymakers; there was some misinformation and exaggeration in the predictions as well.

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In recent years, two companies have advanced the idea of apparel automation. One is Atlanta-based textile-equipment manufacturer SoftWear Automation and the other is Seattle-based Sewbo. However, their success has been limited to producing t-shirts, towels and similar items, and analysts are still debating whether robots can produce jeans and other complex apparel items in the near future.

Even if robots can produce clothing, the finishing and the quality of products will not be the same as those produced using human hands. And demand for apparel products made by humans will not go away. No wonder handloom products are still popular.

The biggest issue, however, is concerning cost and technology transfer. Will robots be cheaper than Bangladesh’s labour? Speaking to the Financial Times, automation software firm SoftWear’s Chief Executive Palaniswamy Rajan admitted that when it comes to price, his sewbots can’t beat workers in Bangladesh. There is also concern about technology adaption. Some big companies might adapt to new technologies in the shortest possible time but all factories will take time to do so.

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