Financial Times Limited

Stitched up by robots: the threat to emerging economies

Kiran Kumari sits behind her Brother sewing machine on a vast factory floor, dressed in a purple and gold sari and flanked by dozens of fellow clothes stitchers. With a deft sweep of her arm, she picks up a piece of cloth from the bundle next to her, places a white panel on top and feeds them both quickly under the needle. It is just one of about 400 collars Mrs Kumari will sew on to Ralph Lauren tops during her eight-hour shift, each one taking a few minutes to complete and all done for about $100 a month. 

She and the other 4,800 or so garment workers spread across three Matrix Clothing factories south of Delhi form just a small part of the army of inexpensive labour that many developing countries hope will propel them towards prosperity. This is particularly true in South Asia, where populations are growing fast and wages remain low. estimates this region alone will add 1m to 1.2m new workers to the labour market each month for the next two decades - 240m people.

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