India opposition asks Modi government to question Foxconn hiring practices

FILE PHOTO: Two women wearing backpacks stand outside a security office at the main entrance to Foxconn's factory in Sriperumbudur

By Aditya Kalra and Praveen Paramasivam

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India's opposition Congress urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government on Saturday to question Foxconn about its hiring practices after Reuters reported that the Apple supplier rejects married women from iPhone assembly jobs in the country.

The government has sought a detailed report from the state of Tamil Nadu, site of a major iPhone factory where Reuters uncovered Foxconn's hiring practices. The story has sparked debates on TV channels, newspaper editorials and calls from women groups, including within Modi's party, to investigate the matter.

Congress lawmaker Karti P. Chidambaram wrote in a letter to Labour Minister Mansukh Mandaviya that Foxconn receives "substantial incentives" from the federal government and the company should be asked to explain its practices to ensure it complies with "Indian laws and values".

"While foreign investment is crucial, it should not come at the cost of disregarding our cultural values," Chidambaram wrote in the letter, posted on X.

Apple, Taiwan-based Foxconn and the ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the Congress letter.

The Reuters investigation found Foxconn has systematically excluded married women from jobs at its main India iPhone plant on the grounds they have more family responsibilities than their unmarried counterparts.

Foxconn hiring agents and HR sources cited family duties, pregnancy and higher absenteeism as reasons for not hiring married women.

Responding to the investigation, published on Tuesday, Apple and Foxconn acknowledged to Reuters lapses in hiring practices in 2022 and said they had worked to address the issues. All the discriminatory practices documented by Reuters at the Sriperumbudur plant, however, took place in 2023 and 2024.

Foxconn said it "vigorously refutes allegations of employment discrimination based on marital status, gender, religion or any other form."

Apple said all its suppliers, including Foxconn, hire married women and "when concerns about hiring practices were first raised in 2022 we immediately took action and worked with our supplier to conduct monthly audits to identify issues and ensure that our high standards are upheld."

The Foxconn positions in India offer food and accommodation and a monthly paycheck of about $200. In China, six online job ads reviewed by Reuters showed workers engaged in iPhone assembly at Foxconn's Zhengzhou plant can earn $400 to $800 a month. The ads did not mention marital status or gender requirements.

"While they don't discriminate in China, can they do whatever in India?," Vasuki Umanath of the Communist Party Of India (Marxist), another Modi opponent, told Reuters on Thursday.

"Labour unions, women's welfare organizations and democratic forces should raise their voice against this discrimination."

The Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation party said this week that action must be taken against what it said were "exploitative and discriminatory (hiring) practice".

(Reporting by Aditya Kalra and Praveen Paramasivam; Additional reporting by Munsif Vengattil; Editing by William Mallard)