Hon Hai Precision’s (also known as Foxconn) investment in robotics and artificial intelligence is already enabling it to use technology to replace workers, with a factory in Kunshan, China, reportedly slashing its workforce by 60,000 to 50,000.
Kunshan is a major electronics manufacturing hub in Jiangsu province in the north east, with about 4,800 Taiwanese companies.
Last year 35 Taiwanese companies, including Foxconn, invested CNY4 billion (HKD4.74 billion) on artificial intelligence, the South China Morning Post reported.
A representative for the Kunshan government told the Post that after seeing the reduction in labour costs, more companies are likely to follow suit. As many as 600 companies in Kunshan have plans to use robots, according to a government survey, the newspaper said.
While the wholesale replacement of labour with machines is controversial as it could boost unemployment, creating headaches for governments, industry sources say robots will be more effective in handing dangerous as well as highly repetitive tasks than humans.
Foxconn confirmed that it was automating “many of the manufacturing tasks”, but noted that it won’t necessarily lead to long-term job losses, BBC reported.
“We are applying robotics engineering and other innovative manufacturing technologies to replace repetitive tasks, and through training [we] also enable our employees to focus on higher value-added elements in the manufacturing process,” it said in a statement published by BBC.
A year ago Foxconn and Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba teamed up with mobile operator SoftBank to set up a robot venture to sell the Japanese firm’s human-like robot globally. Foxconn and Alibaba each took a 20 per cent stake, while SoftBank holds the remaining 60 per cent.