Wednesday, July 24, 2024
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Foxconn, a major manufacturer of Apple devices, has been systematically excluding married female candidates from assembly jobs at its flagship Indian smartphone plant. This practice directly violates both companies’ codes of conduct, which prohibit discrimination based on marital status.

Parvathi and Janaki, sisters in their 20s, experienced this discrimination firsthand. In March 2023, they went to the Foxconn plant in southern India for job interviews after seeing job ads on WhatsApp. However, they were turned away at the main gate by a security officer who asked if they were married. “We didn’t get the jobs as we both are married,” Parvathi said later. She noted that even the auto-rickshaw driver who took them to the facility had warned them about this discriminatory practice.

A Reuters investigation found that Foxconn has been excluding married women from jobs at its main iPhone assembly plant in Sriperumbudur, near Chennai, due to perceived family responsibilities and societal pressures. S. Paul, a former human resources executive at Foxconn India, revealed that the company’s executives verbally conveyed these discriminatory hiring rules to their Indian hiring agencies. These agencies are responsible for scouting candidates, conducting interviews, and employing the workers.

Paul, who left Foxconn in August 2023 for a consulting firm, stated that the company typically does not hire married women because of “cultural issues” and societal pressures, including concerns about pregnancy and higher absenteeism. This account was corroborated by 17 employees from more than a dozen Foxconn hiring agencies in India and four current and former Foxconn HR executives.

Many hiring agents and HR sources cited family duties, pregnancy, and higher absenteeism as reasons for not hiring married women. Additionally, they mentioned that jewelry worn by married Hindu women could interfere with production. Despite these reasons, the practice of excluding married women is not absolute. During high-production periods, Foxconn sometimes relaxes this rule and even helps female candidates conceal their marital status to secure jobs.

In response to Reuters’ inquiries, Apple and Foxconn acknowledged lapses in hiring practices in 2022 and stated that they had taken steps to address the issues. However, they did not address the instances of discrimination documented in 2023 and 2024.

While Indian law does not prohibit companies from discriminating based on marital status, Apple and Foxconn’s policies do. Apple emphasizes its commitment to high supply chain standards and noted that Foxconn employs some married women in India. Foxconn, in its statement, refuted allegations of employment discrimination based on marital status.

The exposure of Foxconn’s hiring practices has significant implications for one of the highest-profile foreign investments in India. Apple is positioning India as an alternative manufacturing base to China, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government views Foxconn’s factory as a key part of moving up the economic value chain.

Foxconn’s discrimination based on marital status undermines Modi’s goals of increasing female labor-force participation. Despite efforts to overhaul labor laws to prevent gender-based discrimination, the exclusion of married women from jobs at the iPhone plant highlights the challenge of upholding global standards of inclusion while expanding supply chains in a conservative country.

Between January 2023 and May 2024, Reuters made over 20 trips to Sriperumbudur and spoke to dozens of jobseekers about the hiring process. Reporters reviewed a candidate information pamphlet, job ads, and WhatsApp records in which Foxconn recruiters stated that only unmarried women were eligible for assembly jobs. The ads made no mention of hiring men.

For many Indian women, jobs at Foxconn offer a way out of extreme poverty. The positions provide food, accommodation, and a monthly paycheck of about $200, roughly in line with India’s per capita GDP. However, the discriminatory hiring practices limit these opportunities.

Foxconn’s hiring practices reflect concerns about traditional ornaments worn by married Hindu women, which could interfere with the manufacturing process and potentially cause electrostatic discharge. Additionally, the prohibition on ornaments helps prevent theft of components.

While Indian law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on marital status, such practices may interfere with an individual’s fundamental right to freedom of trade and occupation. There is legal precedent against terminating employment based on marital status, as seen in a 1965 Supreme Court ruling that struck down a company’s practice of firing married women due to absenteeism concerns.

The discriminatory hiring practices at Foxconn’s Indian plant highlight the challenges of adhering to global standards of inclusion while expanding in conservative markets. As Foxconn and Apple continue to grow their operations in India, they must address these issues to align with their stated commitments to non-discrimination and to support the broader goals of female empowerment and economic development in the country.


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