Mass Food Poisoning Incident Leads Apple to Temporarily Shut Down iPhone Factory

Mass Food Poisoning Incident Leads Apple to Temporarily Shut Down iPhone Factory
Photo: AFP/AFP, Getty Images

The company that makes your iPhone is in trouble again. According to reports, Apple has put its long-running computer parts contractor, Foxconn, on probation, after a factory run by the notorious Taiwanese company accidentally made hundreds of its employees violently ill earlier this month.

The factory, which is based in India and employs approximately 17,000 people to make the iPhone 12, was the subject of widespread protests last week after a bad bout of food poisoning at the facility left hundreds of workers in need of medical attention, Reuters has reported. 159 people had to be hospitalised and some 250 others were treated as out-patients in connection to the incident. The factory, which is located in the state of Tamil Nadu, provides on-site lodging and meals to workers, as is common for large-scale industrial factories that require long hours and intensive shifts. Those meals, however, apparently aren’t so great.

After learning that hundreds of their co-workers had been sickened by food made at a company-sponsored canteen, workers at the factory organised a protest and subsequently blocked a large interstate highway as part of their demonstration. The protests were related to not just the recent incident but to overall poor labour conditions at the factory, according to a recent report from Bloomberg. Many of the protesters were arrested.

This whole ruckus ultimately forced the factory to shut down for several days while government officials inspected the facility — and the incident has now spawned calls to more broadly investigate the way in which the factory’s workers are treated.

As previously noted, Apple has also placed the factory on probation — meaning that it will remain closed, allegedly until changes can be made that rectify the issues at hand. We reached out to Apple and Foxconn with multiple requests for comment on this story but did not hear back.

An Apple spokesperson apparently told TechCrunch that the company “will ensure our strict standards are met before the facility reopens.” The spokesperson further commented that “some of the remote dormitory accommodations and dining rooms being used for employees do not meet our requirements and we are working with the supplier to ensure a comprehensive set of corrective actions are rapidly implemented.”

In case you haven’t kept up with all this, Foxconn is Apple’s biggest manufacturing contractor but has been widely viewed as a fucking nightmare for workers since as far back as the Steve Jobs days. A rash of 14 suicides in 2010 inspired widespread concern and outrage over the company’s labour conditions. Another worker killed himself in 2012. To ward off further death, the company infamously installed “suicide nets” (or what it termed “antijumping” nets) around the fringes of its factories and employee dormitories as a solution to its workers wanting to kill themselves.

The company has consistently made promises to improve the standard of living for its workers — and there’s been some amount of debate over how bad Foxconn’s conditions are relative to the rest of its regional competitors. However, as recently as 2018, the company was forced to investigate a factory in China that manufactures Amazon Echo Dots and Kindles, after a watchdog group alleged harsh working conditions at the facility.

It’s also probably not a super hopeful sign that the recent protests have been about Foxconn’s food since, as far back as the early Obama years, workers have complained that the company’s meals taste like crap. Indeed, a 2012 survey of over 35,000 Foxconn workers showed that 71 per cent of them thought that Foxconn’s food was bad, while about half of those surveyed felt the canteens that served the food could not be classified as hygienic. Now that they’ve graduated from bad to poisonous, the company clearly has some work to do.