A man holds Apple's new smartphones, the iPhone 11 Pro, left, and the iPhone 11 Pro Max at the Steve Jobs Theater on the group's California campus. Photo: AFP / Christoph Dernbach / dpa

While Apple Inc announced plans to manufacture the iPhone 13 in India, its contract manufacturers Foxconn is facing labor unrest.

Work at Foxconn’s plant near Chennai was disrupted after many workers, mainly women, fell sick allegedly to food poisoning earlier this month. On December 17, workers at Foxconn’s plant staged a protest against poor working conditions and crowded dormitories.

It was later found there had been an outbreak of acute diarrhoeal disease and 159 employees had been admitted to various hospitals.

Taiwan-based Foxconn shut the plant after this incident and there is no clarity about when it will reopen. This factory is central to Apple’s efforts to shift production away from China.

The US tech giant had placed Foxconn’s facility “on probation” after it found the workers’ dormitories and dining rooms did not meet required standards. Apple claimed it would ensure that strict standards are met before the plant reopens.

It said in a statement: “We hold our suppliers accountable to the highest standards in the industry and regularly conduct assessments to ensure compliance.”

An Apple spokesperson said: “We are working with the supplier to ensure a comprehensive set of corrective actions are rapidly implemented.” The plant has a headcount of 17,000.

Foxconn outsources staffing of the factory to labor brokers, who are also responsible for housing the workers – mostly women – employed there. The dorm where the workers fell sick was run by Venpa Staffing Services.

This incident has also drawn the attention of the Tamil Nadu state government, where the plant is located. Four state agencies are now investigating the food poisoning incident. The state government also told Foxconn to ensure that working and living conditions were improved, including the quality of housing and drinking water.

Both Foxconn and Apple have assured that the worker’s working and living conditions will be improved, but did not provide any time frame.

Last year Apple’s other contract manufacturer Wistron had to close down the plant near Bangalore for nearly three months after labor unrest over unpaid wages.

On December 12, 2020, thousands of workers at the Wistron factory went on a rampage over lapses in payment of salaries and overtime. The plant suffered extensive damage and resumed production in March 2021.