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Technology and Human Rights: Automation

Will 2018 be the year a robot takes my job? That is the question many workers are asking themselves. While the number of jobs that will be lost to automation is a hotly contested topic, there is no denying that the growing use of advanced robotics and artificial intelligence will have significant impacts on workers, wages, and human rights more broadly. It is therefore critical that the global community begin to think through the necessary legal and policy responses to increased automation and ensure that the future of work places human rights front and center.

 

Sarah McGrath, Former Legal and Policy Director, International Corporate Accountability Roundtable

Automation and mechanisation will continue to result in significant structural changes to the nature of work as an increasing number of jobs are performed by computers and robots. Research by the McKinsey Global Institute estimates that while automation could raise productivity growth globally by 0.8 to 1.4 percent annually, half of the activities people are currently paid to do could potentially be automated, amounting to nearly $15 trillion in wages. Their research finds that these activities are primarily physical activities in highly structured and predictable environments, as well as the collection and processing of data.

The long-term impacts of growth in automation remain to be seen and there is a real risk that lower-skilled workers that are already vulnerable due to low pay, precarious work conditions, and/or job insecurity may be impacted the most. It is critical that workers and labour unions be at the centre of discussions and decision-making about how automation can be utilised to benefit all. Under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, companies have the responsibility to avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts, such as violations of the risk to decent work, through their own activities and address such impacts when they occur. Companies increasing their use of automation can help mitigate negative impacts on workers by investing in new skills development opportunities. 

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