Apple & Foxconn successfully lobby Karnataka authorities to remove labour protections

Apple & Foxconn successfully lobby Karnataka authorities to remove labour protections
Apple looks to leave China in search of ‘favourable and low-cost’ labour in India. Image courtesy of MacRumours.

With the ongoing geopolitical tensions between China and the US, as well as other Western nations, multinational conglomerates are looking to move their production operations away from China. As well as a relatively hostile political climate, China’s ‘zero COVID policy’ has hindered previously highly efficient production capabilities. Factories have been buffeted by numerous lockdowns led by such a policy, and has cultivated a contentious relationship between authorities, workers, and production managers. Further, in a recent study led by The Reshoring Institute which analysed wages and salaries of production workers, machine operators, manufacturing supervisors and managers illustrated that “China can no longer be considered a low-cost country” in terms of production. Concluding that labour rates have significantly increased, the data reveals to corporations active in the region that there are opportunities for profits elsewhere. 


Apple and the tech production giant Foxconn are just two of numerous multinationals looking to leave China in search of lower labour costs. India has become the primary target as it is recognised as a veritable paradise for low-cost production. Receptive local governance, eager to woo the likes of Apple have made it clear that states will do whatever it can to draw in as many companies as possible, likely at the cost of their constituents. Recently, heavy lobbying from both companies has successfully reshaped labour laws in Karnataka State in Southern India to provide Apple and Foxconn with ample opportunity to maximise production and lower costs. The Deccan Herald reported that on 1st March, the Karnataka assembly passed a law that permits a two 12-hour shift production, a standard in China that allowed for 24-hour production. Other changes also provide interesting insight, such as:


  1. Allowable overtime per three-month period has increased from 75 hours to 145 hours. 
  2. Rules for nighttime work for women have been eased, allowing women to work between 7pm and 7am.
  3. Increased worker’s legitimate working hours from 9 to 12 hours for four consecutive days.


As multinationals like Apple and Foxconn look to terraform local labour laws in order to replicate the favourable Chinese environment of previous decades, there is an almost guaranteed risk that workers will suffer. Increasing overtime capacities and legitimate working hours will stretch poorly paid workers and force higher production rates with no mention of pay increases. With Karnataka authorities eager to attract yet more production companies, protections of local workers will continue to degrade exponentially with increasing corporate presence.


The likes of The Reshoring Institute and Apple label regions ‘low-cost’, this is a thinly-veiled attempt to reframe a lack of regional labour protections. Colloquially referring to regions as ‘low labour cost’ should be recognised for what it is; isolating and targeting areas with poor labour rights and/or susceptible local governance that will de-regulate related labour laws. 


The likes of Apple and Foxconn have a long history of mistreating workers, particularly in China in order to maintain ‘low-cost’ labour intensive production. Let us not forget the numerous examples of suicide at Longhua beginning in 2010. That year, there were 14 confirmed deaths and 18 reported attempts, with 20 others ‘talked down by Foxconn officials’. The response of Foxconn  to these horrendous events are characteristic of a wider corporate disdain for their employees lives; they just installed large nets outside the buildings to catch the falling bodies but did nothing to deal with why they were attempting suicide - the conditions.


For Apple and related production companies, exploitation of labour will not be endemic to Chinese iPhone-making factories. Examples of Apple-related issues in India are already easy to find. Recently, Wistron, a company that until recently owned an iPhone assembly plant in Kolar, near Bengaluru in Karnataka, has had to sell to production giant Tata after riots. In 2020, thousands of contract workers at the plant destroyed equipment and vehicles over non-payment of wages, irregular hours and dire working conditions. 149 workers were consequently arrested on charges including unlawful assembly and rioting. The Karnataka government moved quickly to delegitimise rioting workers, vowing to take the “strictest action” against them. Illustrating that local politicians and authorities are more concerned about incidents tarnishing the regions image as an investment hub. Officials hardly mentioned the accusations of stolen wages and poor conditions. 


In 2021, it was reported that Foxconn’s factory was shutdown due to strikes and riots. Supposedly, after 250 women who both live and work at the factory were hospitalised due to food poisoning, riots began to protest conditions. The factory was shutdown for the duration of the strikes, as many of the 17 000 workers, who make iPhones for Apple, looked to improve not only working but living conditions. Many of the women illustrated that they were forced to sleep on the floors of rooms housing anywhere between 6-30 women, the toilets provided had no running water and the food provided were covered in worms, likely causing the outbreak of food poisoning.


As Apple, Foxconn and other giants look to leave China for regions with more a more agreeable political climate and so-called ‘low-cost’ labour (opportunity for exploitation), it is important to keep these instances of human rights abuses in mind. It would be incredibly naive for anyone to expect Apple or Indian authorities to allow for the improvement of workers’ lives at the cost of profitable opportunity. These are the very reasons why the likes of Apple and others sought out factories in Southern India; because worker’s are easily exploitable. Exploitation of labour is the foundation of the production of goods that characterise our modern society. Corporations, aided by the likes of The Reshoring Institute actively seek out opportunity for exploitation, or regions with already down-trodden workers in order to increase profit in the next quarter. If we are to improve human and labour rights on our planet, it is vital that we decode much of the current language used around production. 



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