Discussion Paper 36: Automation, employment and reshoring in the apparel industry

19 May 2020

There is great concern about the impact of automation on employment. It is largely agreed that jobs comprised of repetitive codifiable tasks are at greatest risk, despite limited consensus on the likely magnitude of impacts. The apparel and footwear industries have been strategic in economic development as an entry point into global markets and as a creator of jobs. Although routine work characterizes the bulk of employment in apparel and footwear manufacturing, the penetration of automation technologies remains limited. Against this background, and as a follow-up to a forthcoming ILO report Robotics and Reshoring, this paper offers new insights from interviews with leading brands and retailers in these industries about the current and projected use of technology in apparel and footwear, highlighting practical bottlenecks to what may in theory seem easy to automate and discussing potential implications for the global distribution of production and employment in the sector.


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