GENEVA, 15 September (ILO News) – The introduction of new technologies will be one of the driving factors contributing to productivity gains in the retail sector but will also affect the levels and quality of employment, says a new ILO report */. The report was prepared for discussion at the Tripartite Meeting on the Social and Labour Implications of the Increased Use of Advanced Retail Technologies to be held in Geneva from 18 – 20 September. The meeting will examine the role of new retail technologies, particularly RFID (radio frequency identification) in shaping the employment landscape in commerce. The technology enables non-contact transmission of product information such as price, manufacturer, expiration date and weight via a radio frequency. The compelling reason underlying RFID supply chain introduction is to help retailers deliver what the customer wants and thus increase productivity and competitiveness.Other benefits include better food safety through enhanced ability to track and trace livestock, to access product information, and to fight counterfeit products. According to the report, only the very largest retailers with the necessary financial resources will be able to deploy the technology for the foreseeable future given the high cost of RFID implementation. The estimated set-up costs for a major retailer would range from US$340 to 380 million for a business with approximately eight distribution centres and a thousand or more stores. While the costs of RFID are prohibitive for all but the largest retailers, the potential cost savings are immense. The projected annual cost savings estimated from the technology for the world’s largest retailer Wal-Mart would be up to US$8.35 billion annually with RFID – more than the total revenue of half the companies in the Fortune 500, the report says. Wal-Mart is investing approximately US$3 billion over several years in the new technology.Because of their ability to reduce demand for labour, the introduction of new technologies like RFID is invariably accompanied by fear of job losses in the companies and industries concerned. “However, most economists stress that technological change and productivity growth have historically been associated with expanding rather than contracting total employment and rising earnings”, says John Sendanyoye, ILO expert for the commerce sector.According to the report, staff resources can be shifted to higher value added tasks, including customer advisory services. “The introduction of RFID alters demands on employees, with the elimination of routine warehousing tasks. Staff support measures for the transition include training and career development”, explains Sendanyoye. According to the ILO report, with extensive social dialogue and appropriate training, workers and employers can achieve win-win outcomes with improved productivity, increased customer satisfaction, enhanced working conditions, and improved worker benefits. As the full replacement of the bar code with the newer RFID technology will not be completed for at least 15 more years, public authorities and the social partners will have sufficient time to examine all ramifications of the technology and to agree and design measures to ensure that its benefits far outweigh any possible negative impacts, the report says. Besides a discussion of the report, the ILO tripartite Meeting will also adopt a set of conclusions on ways to reconcile the interests of all stakeholders in the face of a changing employment landscape and propose a programme of follow-up activities to implement those conclusions.