Apple is investigating a plant in India where its popular iPhones are assembled. This came after a report of mass food poisoning.
Independent investigators working on behalf of Apple are probing a plant where its long-time partner, Foxconn, assembles iPhones in India. The factory, which employs about 17,000 employees, is located about 25 miles from Chennai. The investigation came after workers went on strike to protest deplorable working and living conditions.
An investigation by Reuters revealed that women workers were subjected to extreme conditions. They had to use toilets with no running water and slept on the floor in overcrowded rooms. The dining rooms were also sub-standard.
A worker that spoke anonymously (for fear of retaliation) to Reuters said, “People living in the hostels always had some illness or the other — skin allergies, chest pain, food poisoning. We didn’t make a big deal out of it because we thought it will be fixed. But now, it affected a lot of people.”
An outbreak of serious food poisoning resulted in 150 hospitalized employees out of about 250 women affected. The works then closed the plant on December 18th.
Apple reacted by placing the plant on probation. However, it is unclear how the action will affect the workers or whether they will get paid during the probation period. In the past, Apple has refused to give new contracts to plants on probation until any problems are resolved. The company placed another factory near Bangalore on probation when the workers rioted over unpaid wages.
Foxconn has tendered an apology for the sorry state of the factory and will upgrade the facilities. It released a statement, saying in part, “We are very sorry for the issue our employees experienced and are taking immediate steps to enhance the facilities and services we provide.” The company will renovate the living quarters by expanding the rooms, fixing the bathrooms, and making drinkable water available. The repairs will be fast-tracked as Foxconn wants to reopen the plant as soon as possible.
In a comment to BBC News, Apple’s spokesperson said, “Following recent concerns about food safety and accommodation conditions at Foxconn Sriperumbudur, we dispatched independent auditors. We found that some of the remote dormitory accommodations and dining rooms being used for employees do not meet our requirements, and we are working with the supplier to ensure a comprehensive set of corrective actions are rapidly implemented.”
Apple has been trying to move some of its product assemblies out of China. The process has not been without challenges, but the Cupertino company is still asking its manufacturing partners to expand to other countries, including Vietnam and India.
The iPhone maker is under pressure from the Chinese government to fall in line with the censorship demanded by the Communist Party and unfettered access to user data in the country. By moving some of its production out of China, Apple is showing the government that it has options.
Apple also faces criticism in its home country for taking jobs abroad by outsourcing its production to other nations. The company does not have significant production facilities. It designs its products in the US.
Criticisms of the facilities where Apple products are assembled are not suitable for the company’s image. Hence, it goes to great lengths to ensure its manufacturing partners do not use unacceptable labor and treat their staff well.