People leave the Wistron site, a Taiwanese-run iPhone factory in Narsapura, about 60km from Bangalore, on December 13, 2020. Photo: AFP

Apple Inc has launched an investigation into the recent violence at its contract manufacturer Wistron’s factory near Bangalore, home to many software majors. On Saturday, thousands of workers gathered at the Wistron site demanding clearance of unpaid wages and better working hours. The demonstration soon turned violent and factory equipment and vehicles parked on its premises were damaged.

The Taiwanese company operates a 43-acre plant that manufactures devices for multiple brands including Apple. It has two manufacturing plants near Bangalore and produces the iPhone SE and the iPhone 7. In a statement to the Taiwan Stock Exchange, Wistron said it was doing its utmost to get the plant back up and running.

In its police complaint, Wistron has put the estimated damages at around 4.37 billion rupees (US$60 million), according to media reports. It alleged that as many as 7,000 people were involved in the incident, including 5,000 contract workers. Karnataka state’s Deputy Chief Minister C.N. Ashwathnarayan has condemned the incident and said that workers should resolve wage issues through appropriate forums and not take the law into their own hands.

Apple said in a statement, “We have teams on the ground and immediately launched a detailed investigation at Wistron’s Narasapura facility in India.” The company emphasized its commitment to ensuring everyone in its supply chain is treated with dignity and respect. It will also examine if there was any disparity in the wages agreed and paid to employees.

The iPhone and MacBook maker has been trying to reduce its dependence on China amid the trade war between Beijing and Washington, and sees India as an alternative. The Indian government recently rolled out a production-linked incentive scheme to attract large investments in mobile phone manufacturing and specified electronic components.

Apple’s contract manufacturers – Foxconn, Wistron and Pegatron – are among the 21 companies that have registered for the scheme. Wistron has committed to investing roughly 13 billion rupees ($176.74 million) in smartphone manufacturing over the next five years.

Though the incident at the Wistron plant has raised concerns among market observers, Apple is taking a number of steps to resolve the crisis and ensure that its 2021 production plans remain unchanged. It has rushed in an army of mediators to draw up a long-term labor supply contract with the authorities and ramp up security at all its manufacturing sites across India.