Women's wing of Modi's party calls for probe into Foxconn India hiring practices

FILE PHOTO: Women board a Foxconn factory bus near the village of Molachur

By Munsif Vengattil and Aditya Kalra

NEW DELHI (Reuters) -The women's wing of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling party on Friday urged the National Commission for Women to launch an investigation after Reuters reported that Apple supplier Foxconn rejects married women from iPhone assembly jobs in the country.

"It is imperative to conduct a thorough investigation into these claims and ensure that the rights of women employees at Foxconn Hon Hai are protected," Vanathi Srinivasan, national president of Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) women's wing wrote in a letter to the Commission, posted on X.

In response to the letter, chairperson of the National Commission for Women, Rekha Sharma, wrote on X: "we are doing the needful." She did not elaborate.

The National Commission for Women has the powers to investigate all matters relating to the safeguards provided for women under the Constitution and other laws, its website says. It also has powers of a civil court to summon any person.

Apple and Foxconn did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A Reuters investigation published on Tuesday found that Foxconn has systematically excluded married women from jobs at its main India iPhone plant near Chennai in Tamil Nadu state, on the grounds they have more family responsibilities than their unmarried counterparts.

Foxconn hiring agents and HR sources interviewed by Reuters cited family duties, pregnancy and higher absenteeism as reasons why Foxconn did not hire married women at the plant.

The story has sparked debates on TV channels and newspaper editorials.

In the letter, Srinivasan referred to the reported hiring practices of Foxconn as a "grave issue".

"It has come to our notice through various media sources that Foxconn has adopted discriminatory practices against married women," Srinivasan wrote.

The letter also stated that it had come to the knowledge of the BJP's women wing that women employees at Foxconn are not even allowed to use the washroom during working hours, and those who stay in hostels are not permitted to take leaves. Srinivasan's letter did not elaborate on these points.

Earlier this week, Modi's labour ministry said it has requested a detailed report from the Labour Department of Tamil Nadu on the matter.

In response to questions from Reuters for its Tuesday report, Apple and Foxconn acknowledged 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. The two companies didn’t address the 2023 and 2024 incidents.

Apple said that "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," adding that all its suppliers, including Foxconn, hire married women.

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

The hiring curbs at the iPhone plant show the challenge for both Apple and Foxconn in upholding their stated global standards of inclusion while expanding their supply chains in this fast-growing but largely conservative country.

Modi has previously called for removal of societal impediments that prevent many Indian women from getting jobs. While Foxconn employs thousands of women in India, discrimination on the basis of marital status risks undercutting the prime minister's aims.

(For full story on Reuters.com, please click https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/foxconn-apple-india-women/)

(Reporting by Munsif Vengattil and Aditya KalraEditing by Nick Zieminski)