Foxconn, the Taiwanese iPhone manufacturer, is in talks with the Indian government to open a facility to make Apple smartphones in Maharashtra, according to a report by ET Now. It is believed to be looking for 1,200 acres of land for a new $10 billion facility.
Earlier this year, Foxconn announced its intention to make India a key global manufacturing hub for servicing markets across Africa and West Asia, which can be serviced from India.
"These are huge markets and are logistically cheaper than supplying from China," Foxconn India country head and MD Josh Foulger had told the Times of India.
However, amidst all the excitement and cheer that this decision seems to have brought to India Inc and the markets, there has been no discussion or talks about the Foxconn's dubious record of human rights violations and abuses, especially in its iPhone manufacturing facilities in China. Here are four issues policymakers and bureaucrats must know about and ensure that such violations and incidences do not happen in India:
1. Underage interns: In 2012, Foxconn admitted to using underage interns and children as young as 14 in one of their plants at Yantai in China, which was a breach of Chinese law as the working age in the country is 16. In an official statement, it said, "We recognise that full responsibility for these violations rests with our company and we have apologised to each of the students for our role in this action. Any Foxconn employee found, through our investigation, to be responsible for these violations will have their employment immediately terminated."
|Activists protest against Foxconn employees' mass suicide, at a rally in Hong Kong. Photo credit: CNN|
2. Labour abuses and human rights violations: An investigative report by Daily Mail revealed that the workers sleep in narrow, prison-like corridors, they sleep and cramped rooms in triple-decked bunk beds to save space, with simple bamboo mats for mattresses. Despite summer temperatures hitting 35 degrees, with 90 per cent humidity, there was no air-conditioning. Interviews with workers revealed that some dormitories had more than 40 people and are infested with ants and cockroaches, with the noise and stench making it difficult to sleep.
3. Mass suicide: As many as 14 workers died by committing suicides at the manufacturing complex of Foxconn in China in 2010. The report by Mail featured the story of a worker who died due to exhaustion after working for a 34 hour continuous shift. Post the suicides, a group of universities in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, which interviewed more than 1,800 workers across 12 Foxconn factories prepared a research report due to which Foxconn faced severe criticism. It also mentioned that workers aren't allowed to talk, smile, sit down, walk around or move unnecessarily during their long working hours, which require them to finish 20,000 products every day.
4. Drastic steps to prevent suicide: Post the criticism and censure, all Foxconn employees were forced to sign a new legally binding document promising that they won't kill themselves. It further stated that all employees (or their dependants) must promise not to sue the company as the result of "any unexpected death or injury, including suicide or self torture". Furthermore, the company put high wire fences on the roofs, wire meshes to windows and wide nets at the base of all buildings to prevent workers from committing suicides. In another bizarre move, hundreds of monks were flown in to the plant to exorcise evil spirits.
It is quite surprising that human rights groups and activists haven't raised this issue publicly yet, given that India's track record in ensuring justice and human rights for its workers and citizens at large has been dismal. Whether it is the Bhopal gas tragedy, workers being arrested for agitating in Maruti Suzuki, the lack of adequate social benefits to labourers and not meeting safety standards in manufacturing industries, among several others, despite having adequate laws and regulations, workers have had to face terrible hardships and difficulties.
Therefore, it is imperative that the Modi government gives serious consideration to the dubious past of Foxconn and directs the regulatory agencies to keep a close tab on its factories and employees.