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Cramped Living Quarters And Rotten Food Prompt Women To Force Change At Indian iPhone Factory

Cramped Living Quarters And Rotten Food Prompt Women To Force Change At Indian iPhone Factory
Women who built iPhones at a Foxconn plant in southern India had to put up with overcrowded dorms that did not have flush toilets and food that was occasionally crawling with worms in exchange for a wage.
When poisoned food caused illnesses to over 250 workers, their rage swelled over, resulting in a rare protest that forced the closure of a factory that employed 17,000 people.
A comprehensive examination of the events leading up to and following the Dec. 17 protest by Reuters sheds insight on living and working circumstances at Foxconn, a key component of Apple's supply chain.
The upheaval comes as Apple ramps up manufacturing of its iPhone 13 and shareholders pressure the corporation to be more transparent about labor practices at suppliers' factories.
In a report published by the news agency Reuters which spoke to six women who worked at the Foxconn factory near Chennai, in the Southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, the women complained that they were forced to sleep on the floor of rooms where more than 30 women were cramped in. The women did not want their names to be published over fears of their jobs being at stake or retaliation from the police.
Two of the women interviewed by Reuters claimed that the hostels they were put up in did not have running water in the toilets.
"People living in the hostels always had some illness or the other -- skin allergies, chest pain, food poisoning," another worker, a 21-year-old woman who quit the plant after the protest, told Reuters. She said that two more of the women interviewed had fallen ill from 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," she said.
On Wednesday, Apple and Foxconn announced that several dorms and dining rooms used by plant employees did not satisfy needed standards.
The facility has been put on "probation," and Apple will guarantee that its high criteria are followed before it reopens, according to a statement released by the company.
"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," the company said.
Apple did not go into detail about the enhancements that will be done to the plant's personnel or the criteria that would be implemented.
Accommodation for women workers in Tamil Nadu is governed by laws that require each individual to have at least 120 square feet of living quarters and that dwellings conform to sanitary and fire safety requirements set by municipal authorities.
Foxconn announced that it was reorganizing its local management team and making rapid improvements to its buildings. The company stated that all workers would be compensated while it made the necessary changes to resume operations.
Venpa Staffing Services, a Foxconn subcontractor that manages the dorm where food illness afflicted staff, declined to comment.
At least four Tamil Nadu state authorities have launched probes into the food poisoning and ensuing demonstrations, some of which are still ongoing. Senior state government officials said officials had also privately told Foxconn to improve circumstances.
"It is Foxconn's responsibility," Thangam Thennarasu, the industries minister of Tamil Nadu state told Reuters.
The state government of Tamil Nadu stated in a statement last week that it had ordered Foxconn to enhance living and working facilities, including accommodation and access to safe drinking water.
According to the statement, Foxconn has undertaken to ensure that worker living circumstances comply with government recommendations and legal requirements.
Apple and Foxconn did not suggest when the factory would reopen in their remarks.
According to a senior government official from the state's industries department, Foxconn informed state officials that it "ramped up production too quickly," albeit manufacturing was halted in April and May when the Delta variant of Covid-19 was causing havoc in India.
The plant, which is based in Taiwan, debuted in 2019 with the potential of generating up to 25,000 employment, giving Prime Minister Narendra Modi's "Make in India" initiative a boost.

Christopher J. Mitchell

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