The new iPhone SE is one of a number of models made in India. Photo: Shutter-stock

Apple Inc contract manufacturer Foxconn may reopen its iPhone-making unit near Chennai on January 12, according to media reports. The plant was closed on December 18 after cases of food poisoning among its employees.

Officials in Tamil Nadu state, where the plant is located, have claimed the factory will start operations with a limited capacity of 500 workers from Wednesday. They said Foxconn intends to resume production gradually in a staggered manner.

Apple recently announced that this Foxconn plant will be making the iPhone 13. Apple has been making efforts to shift production away from China after trade tensions between the US and Beijing and it sees India as one alternative.

Workers at the Foxconn plant protested, demanding better accommodation facilities. The company’s 17,000 employees, mostly women, stay in a dozen hostels near the plant.

Foxconn outsources staffing of the factory to labor contractors, who are also responsible for housing the workers. The dorms where the workers fell sick were run by Venpa Staffing Services.

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

Last year Apple’s other contract manufacturer, Wistron, had to close 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.

Though the Indian smartphone market is dominated by Chinese brands, Apple has a substantial market share (44%) in the premium segment (30,000 rupees and above), according to Counterpoint Research.

In the July-September quarter, Apple was the fastest-growing smartphone brand with 212% year-on-year growth. In the ultra-premium segment (handsets priced at more than 45,000 rupees), the brand enjoys a 74% market share.

Apple started production in India in 2017 and now manufactures the iPhone 11 and iPhone 12 at the Foxconn plant and iPhone SE at Wistron’s plant in Bangalore. About 70% of the Apple smartphones sold in the country are manufactured indigenously.