Apple is sending independent auditors to investigate an iPhone assembly facility in India, after poor working and living conditions at the plant prompted workers to go on strike.
The facility in southern India is operated by longtime Apple partner Foxconn. An investigation by Reuters found that women working at the plant were laboring in extremely difficult conditions, forced to sleep on the floor in crowded dorms and sharing toilets without running water. Recently, an outbreak of food poisoning left 150 individuals hospitalized, prompting workers to strike and shut down the plant on December 18th.
In response, Apple says it’s put the plant on “probation” (though the company hasn’t said what this means for Foxconn or the workers who assemble its iPhones). The plant employs some 17,000 people, and is located around 25 miles (40km) west of Chennai.
A spokesperson for Apple told BBC News: “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.”
Foxconn apologized for poor conditions, and, as reported by the state government of Tamil Nadu, has agreed to upgrade its facilities — expanding living spaces, improving bathrooms, and providing drinking water. The company says it will resume work at the plant soon.
The news illustrates the difficulties Apple faces as it shifts production of its gadgets out of China. According to reports in recent years, the iPhone-maker has urged suppliers like Taiwan-based Foxconn to move production to other countries like India and Vietnam. This comes as Apple faces criticism at home for outsourcing manufacturing jobs, and pressure in China to accede to demands from the Communist Party regarding censorship and data access. Shifting production out of China gives other parties less leverage over Apple.
Apple has been repeatedly criticized for the labor conditions involved in constructing its hugely profitable gadgets. Foxconn’s plants in particular have come under scrutiny for their sweatshop conditions and worker suicides.