Living and Working Conditions at India iPhone Plant Truly Reprehensible

Living and Working Conditions at India iPhone Factory Truly Reprehensible

Foxconn’s India iPhone plant highlights what likely is a global problem. Following the closure of the assembly plant near Chennai, India, journalists have taken a closer look at the conditions there. From overcrowding in living quarters to toilets without running water, the conditions found are nothing short of reprehensible. Furthermore, reports have surfaced that India iPhone plant officials and local police authorities tried to silence the protesting workers.

Casting a “Stark Light on Living and Working Conditions” at Foxconn

Journalists affiliated with international news agency Reuters investigated the living and working conditions at the India iPhone assembly plant. They interviewed six women who worked at the plant, all of whom insisted on anonymity. They still fear retaliation on the job or from police.

The workers said they were forced to sleep on the floor in rooms housing between six and 30 women. Two of the workers lived in a hostel with toilets lacking running water. This is despite local laws mandating workers be allocated at least 120 square feet of living space each. The regulations also require housing adhere with local hygiene and fire safety standards.

One former employee of the plant told Reuters, “People living in the hostels always had some illness or the other — skin allergies, chest pain, food poisoning”. She said the workers at the time didn’t “make a big deal out of it” because they thought plant leadership would address the issues.

Tainted Food Sickens Hundreds of India iPhone Plant Workers

The supervisors running Foxconn’s India iPhone plant didn’t fix anything. In fact, matters grew worse. Everything culminated in a rash of food poisoning cases that sickened more than 250 workers and sent 159 women from one dorm to the hospital. Investigators would later find rats and poor drainage plaguing the dormitory’s kitchen and close it.

On Dec. 17, anger boiled over and 2,000 women from the plant protested. They took to the streets, blocking a major highway near the factory. The following day, male workers from a nearby automobile factory joined the protest.

During the second day of the protest, local police responded by assaulting the male workers, then chasing and striking some of the women involved. Police detained 67 women workers and a local journalist. They confiscated their phones and called the women’s parents with a warning to “get their daughters in line,” several of those involved told Reuters.

Failure to Follow Coronavirus Guidelines

On Dec 16, a village-level administrator went to the hostel where the food poisoning happened. He later told police the hostel had “no safeguards to prevent COVID-19 infections”. Considering India is only beginning to recover from a raging surge of Delta variant infections, the findings are especially troubling.

Foxconn opened the plant in southern India in 2019, promising to create as many as 25,000 jobs. The town housing the factory, Sriperumbudur, is a busy industrial area with factories nearby producing products for Samsung and Daimler. This plant is crucial for Apple, as it tries to shift production away from China.

It’s clear, though, that a deeper look into Foxconn’s employment practices needs to happen globally. In the Chennai plant, Foxconn appears to be deliberately recruiting workers unlikely to unionize or protest. The pay at the plant is more than a third more than the minimum wage for such jobs, but workers pay Foxconn’s contractor for their housing and food.

I find it highly unlikely that India is the only country where Foxconn follows this playbook. Other factories owned by the Taiwanese company have also displayed horrid living and working conditions among their employees. Most notably, Foxconn plants in China suffered a string of employee suicides in 2010 because of the work and living conditions.

Apple has vowed to keep the India plant on probation until the problems are solved, but it’s my hope the tech giant goes even further. It’s high time for all of Foxconn’s plants to come under scrutiny.

One thought on “Living and Working Conditions at India iPhone Plant Truly Reprehensible

  • Jeff:

    Your assessment that this is a global problem is correct, and for those of us who live and work in LMICs, this is nothing new and depressingly commonplace. In fact, it is the standard, despite what governments, industry and regulators across the spectrum state. 

    The typical response to workers’ complaints is first ignore, then threaten, then intimidate by making examples, followed by full-on brutal suppression. The call by police to the families of these working women/girls is a serious threat; the implication being ‘She’s out of control. Be a shame if something should happened to her. We can only protect her if she’s obedient’. Families get that message loud and clear, and will generally apply extreme pressure on their daughters/sisters/wives to ‘obey’ and not ‘make trouble’. As for the men joining their protests, just beat some sense into them. 

    I once asked my driver on my way to work, at a time when we were expecting civil unrest, whether it was safe to remain in the office for the full day, or whether the protests would get too violent. His pithy response was, ‘Police come. Bring the bamboo. Hit the head. No problem.’ 

    That’s pretty much the standard sequence for all sociopolitical unrest – and that’s the benign variant. It can get very much darker. Very quickly. 

    I have had several discussions with wealthy industrialists in several countries, but especially in Southern Asia. If you think that you, as a foreigner, have little knowledge about the living conditions of the very poor in these settings, you could be forgiven for thinking that the wealthy in those same countries know even less. I cannot tell you how many times I have been told, ‘You don’t understand. This is what they (the poor) are accustomed to. If you give them more, you will spoil them, and get no further work’. However, working with the poor is why I’m there. 

    That a person is born into poverty and squalor does not mean that, should they find work that pays a regular salary, they expect to remain in squalid conditions with nothing safe to eat – conditions in which they are obliged to live, and for which they must part with a substantial fraction of their salary. This is adding injury to insult. 

    It is human nature to aspire to better one’s condition, to be better, and to pass that betterment onto one’s children. It is an affront to universal human dignity to be forced to labour for inescapable poverty, deprivation, hunger and filth. 

    What the wealthy classes in these settings miss is that the poor can readily see the opulence and apparent ease of the rich. It is the rich who do not see the poor, who remain for them the nameless, numberless invisibles. It is that callous blindness and casual cruelty that sets the powder keg of social instability, and creates the demand for and acquiescence to authoritarian rule, and the resultant loss of all the freedom, dignity and the pursuit of happiness the wealthy thought their riches would bring them. It’s not even a Faustian pact. The wealthy never even get to enjoy those loftiest elements of what it means to be human, never mind the poor. 

    And if the authoritarian cannot maintain their grip on power, quash all dissent from rich and poor alike, and keep the republic from unravelling, then comes civil war, typically along ethnic and tribal lines. Bosnia. Libya. Syria. There have been countless others. And the global consequences that inevitably follow. 

    In the end, we are no stronger or more resilient to sociopolitical blight than our weakest members. Wealth is not only of no protection in the face of extreme poverty and deprivation, it is a threat to everyone’s peace and security. It’s just a question of that fuse’s burn rate.

    It is in Apple’s, and everyone’s, interest to pursue this. It will not be a quick fix, but a whole societal structural change. It will cost everyone. But if successfully addressed, everyone, including you, will benefit. 

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