The Supply Chain Matters blog highlights a report of the temporary closure of a Foxconn India based iPhone production facility due to worker illness related to food poisoning.

It would seem that late December is a time when iPhone designer Apple has to tend to human rights incidents involving its contract manufacturers, and this year is no exception.

Reuters reported that a contract manufacturing services facility in India assembling Apple iPhones has been placed on probationary notice for alleged work rights violation.

The facility, operated by Foxconn (Hon Hai Precision Ltd), reportedly employs upwards of 17,000 workers and is located near Chennai India, has temporarily suspended production operations. The report indicates that more than 250 women workers at the facility and living in hostel dormitories, were treated for food poisoning. Reportedly more than 150 were hospitalized as a result of the incident.

The production facility remains closed and a spokesperson for Foxconn reportedly indicated that a restructuring of the local management team was underway, adding that all employees will be paid while necessary improvements are made.

An Apple spokesperson indicated to Reuters that independent auditors have been dispatched to the facility to inspect conditions among worker dormitories.

Earlier this week, Foxconn as well as eleven of its local services contractors were summoned for a meeting with India state government officials who were investigating the worker illnesses.

The facility produces iPhone 12 models and has started trial production of iPhone 13 models.

Supply Chain Matters noted in a commentary published in 2020, that Foxconn had established an added iPhone production presence in India as a hedge for too much reliance on China as a source of production.


Prior Supplier Probationary Incidents

There has been a pattern of prior probationary actions on the part of Apple occurring in November and December.

Last year at this time, thousands of contract workers employed at an iPhone contract manufacturing facility located near Bengaluru, India, an operated by Wistron, rioted and destroyed equipment over alleged non-payment of wages due. Wistron subsequently formally apologized for the mishandling of wages at the facility and Wistron Vice President who had overseen the India facility was sacked.

Last December, one of the oldest iPhone suppliers was accused by the human rights group Tech Transparency Project of utilizing forced Muslim labor in its factories according to documents uncovered by and shared exclusively with the labor rights group and the Washington Post publication. Noted in the report was that: “…thousands of Uighur workers from the predominantly Muslim region of Xinjiang were sent to work for Lens Technology.”

In November of last year, contract manufacturer Pegatron was placed on probation due to labor violations regarding a misclassification of student workers occurring at Shanghai and Kunshan production campuses in eastern China. These misclassifications allowed these workers to work nights and overtime which was in violation of Apple’s Supplier Code of Conduct.

The significance of these December announcements is twofold.

The consumer electronics provider knows all too well that visibility to its corporate and social responsibility actions will be constantly monitored and judged, both from workers and consumers. Second, during the past two years, delays involving new iPhone designs along with various component availability delays brought about by implications of the pandemic have placed enormous pressures on various contract manufacturers in ramp-up volume production in short intervals of time for assuring holiday availability and consumer purchases.

Invariably, worker rights violations occur and Apple initiates probationary actions and added facility audits. Only they tend to come at the tail end of the holiday production surge when production workers become more frustrated with the working environment.

The hope remains that with each of these probationary actions, contract manufacturers and suppliers would mend their processes and worker practice policies. However, it would seem that for each augmented low-cost manufacturing site, worker abuses tend to reawaken.


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