Ethical Manufacturing

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Ethical Manufacturing

Robots could bring an end to forced labor and lead a new era of ethical manufacturing.

Key Insight

Robots could bring an end to forced labor and lead a new era of ethical manufacturing.

Why It Matters

Millions of people are victims of forced labor around the world.


Advancements in robotics will further reduce the need for human labor. While this certainly means that people will be out of certain kinds of work, it could also mean the end of bonded, forced and child labor—not to mention outright slavery—which unfortunately has become commonplace in places like Uzbekistan, China and Bangladesh. In September 2018, the Associated Press published a devastating account of foreign fishing workers, confined and forced to work on U.S. fishing boats. The AP’s investigation revealed a disturbing present-day reality: Fishermen who were forced to use buckets instead of toilets, suffered sores from bed bugs and didn’t have enough food to sustain them.

What’s Next

You might assume that if a t-shirt costs $5.99, then a robot made it, but that isn’t always the case. Better manufacturing processes in fast fashion and other industries could lead to improved working conditions for millions of people, but also may put some of those people out of their jobs. Sustainability goals set by the United Nation and other organizations have prioritized human rights in manufacturing and supply chain processes and automation.

The Impact

Ethical manufacturing promises more humane work environments, but could also potentially lead to disruption in developing economies. Even with extremely low wages, a workforce can sustain a local economy—when those wages are lost as workers are replaced by robots, the flow of money through the community can go from a trickle to a drought.


ABB Robotics, Aethon Inc., Alliance For American Manufacturing, Alphabet (Google), Amazon, Carnegie Mellon University, MIT’s Interactive Robotics Group, National Association of Manufacturers, Tesla, ULC Robotics.