Foxconn and Apple practise discrimination against married women in their Indian assembly plants!

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Foxconn recruitment video does not suggest that married women need not apply

FOXCONN, a key manufacturer of Apple devices, has been systematically excluding married female candidates from assembly jobs at its flagship Indian smartphone plant.

Despite both companies’ codes of conduct explicitly stating that workers should not face discrimination based on marital status, this practice continues unabated.

Parvathi and Janaki, sisters in their 20s, arrived at the iPhone factory in southern India for interviews in March 2023, only to be turned away by a security officer who inquired about their marital status.

‘We didn’t get the jobs as we both are married,’ Parvathi later explained. ‘Even the auto-rickshaw driver who took us there said they wouldn’t take married women,’ she added.

A detailed investigation uncovered that Foxconn has been excluding married women from jobs at its main Indian iPhone assembly plant, justifying this on the grounds that they have greater family responsibilities.

S. Paul, a former human-resources executive at Foxconn India, revealed that company executives relay these discriminatory recruitment rules verbally to Indian hiring agencies. Paul, who left Foxconn in August 2023, mentioned that the company’s stance is that there are ‘many issues post-marriage’, including having children.

Paul’s account was corroborated by 17 employees from over a dozen Foxconn hiring agencies in India and four current and former Foxconn human-resources executives. Twelve of these sources spoke on the condition of anonymity.

They cited family duties, pregnancy, and higher absenteeism as reasons for not hiring married women. Additionally, they noted that jewellery worn by married Hindu women could ‘interfere with production’.

The exclusion, however, is not absolute. During high-production periods, Foxconn sometimes relaxes this practice due to labour shortages. In some cases, hiring agencies help female candidates conceal their marital status to secure jobs.

Apple and Foxconn acknowledged lapses in hiring practices in 2022 and had claimed to have worked to address these issues. However, they did not address instances from 2023 and 2024, raising questions about the sincerity and effectiveness of their responses.

While Indian law does not prohibit companies from discriminating in hiring based on marital status, Apple’s and Foxconn’s policies do. Apple emphasised its commitment to the highest supply chain standards, noting that Foxconn employs some married women in India. ‘When concerns about hiring practices were first raised in 2022, we took immediate action,’ Apple stated. Foxconn, on the other hand, claimed it ‘vigorously refutes allegations of employment discrimination.’

However, the discriminatory practices documented at the Sriperumbudur plant continued into 2023 and 2024. Neither company addressed these specific instances.

The exposure of these hiring practices casts a spotlight on a major issue for one of the highest-profile foreign investments in India. Apple is positioning India as an alternative manufacturing base to China amidst geopolitical tensions. The Indian government sees Foxconn’s iPhone factory as crucial to the country’s economic advancement.

Discrimination based on marital status undermines Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s claims of boosting female employment. His administration has claimed to have reformed labour laws to prevent gender-based discrimination, though these measures are yet to be implemented and do not specifically address marital status discrimination.

Between January 2023 and May 2024, investigators visited Sriperumbudur over 20 times, interviewing dozens of jobseekers. Reporters reviewed job ads and WhatsApp discussions from Foxconn’s third-party recruiters stating that only unmarried women were eligible for assembly jobs. For some Indian women, a job at Foxconn represents a crucial escape from poverty, offering food, accommodation, and a monthly salary of about $200.

Foxconn outsources its hiring to third-party vendors registered with the Tamil Nadu state government. These vendors scout for candidates, who are ultimately interviewed and selected by Foxconn. The vendors directly employ the workers and manage payroll, receiving about $10 to $15 per employee monthly. Apple and Foxconn require their suppliers to adhere to their codes of conduct, prohibiting discrimination.

Foxconn stated it enhanced its management process for hiring agencies in 2022 and took corrective action against four agencies posting non-compliant ads. The company claimed that almost 25% of the women hired in the latest round were married. However, specific numbers or locations were not provided, casting doubt on the veracity of these claims.

Neither Modi’s office nor relevant Indian ministries responded to requests for comments on Foxconn’s hiring practices. Tamil Nadu officials also did not respond. Investigators could not determine when the practice of not hiring married women began, but a recruiter at Go Staffing mentioned it had been in place for around a year.

Assembly lines staffed predominantly by women align with Modi’s efforts to boost female labour-force participation, which stands at around 37%. Other companies, like Ola Electric, also focus on hiring women. Despite economic growth, many Indian women remain confined to household chores and childcare.

When Apple CEO Tim Cook visited India last year, job creation, especially for women, was a key discussion point. Apple views India as a critical growth market, with the country expected to account for 9% to 14% of global iPhone production this year.

Foxconn, which exported devices worth $5 billion from India last year, has expanded its operations in the country. Most iPhones made in India are produced at the Sriperumbudur plant, which employs thousands of women on its assembly lines.

Many sources attributed Foxconn’s hiring practices to concerns over traditional metal ornaments worn by married Hindu women, which could interfere with the manufacturing process. Some recruitment agency officials stated that candidates could conceal their marital status by not updating their government-issued ID cards and removing ornaments.

Foxconn has faced scrutiny over its work environment in China, where a spate of suicides among workers raised serious concerns about working conditions. However, in China, job ads for Foxconn’s Zhengzhou plant show that workers engaged in iPhone assembly can earn $400 to $800 a month, more than double the wages in India. Additionally, these Chinese ads do not mention marital status or gender, stating that anyone aged 18 to 48 can apply. In contrast, in India, discriminatory practices exclude married women, and wages are significantly lower.

Hiring agencies sometimes specify the requirement for unmarried candidates in job ads. Despite this, some married women have secured jobs at Foxconn by concealing their marital status.

The broader implications of this discriminatory practice are troubling. Foxconn and Apple, by failing to enforce their own anti-discrimination policies effectively, contribute to systemic inequities that undermine both economic growth and social progress in India.