Indian govt probes claims Foxconn won't hire married women

Cultural traditions clash with manufacturing ambitions

Updated India's Ministry of Labor and Employment has ordered an investigation of Foxconn – the contract manufacturer supplier also known as Hon Hai Precision and one of Apple’s main suppliers – after reports emerged alleging the company will not hire married women to work at its main iPhone assembly plant on the subcontinent.

The probe is in the form of a request for a "detailed report" from the Labor Department of the state government in Tamil Nadu. Foxconn's largest Indian facility is in Sriperumbudur, a town in Tamil Nadu.

"Section 5 of the Equal Remuneration Act, 1976 clearly stipulates that no discrimination will be made while recruiting men and women workers," reasoned the ministry on Wednesday. "As the State Government is the appropriate authority for the enforcement and administration of the provisions of this Act, hence the report has been sought from the State Government."

A Reuters report published the day before the Ministry’s move alleged that Foxconn systemically excluded the employment of married women at the Sriperumbudur plant.

The reported justification for the policy was that married women experience family duties, pregnancy and absenteeism. A secondary justification for their exclusion was that the customary ornaments worn by married women in India – like toe rings and necklaces – aren't typically removed and present safety hazards in the manufacturing environment.

Foxconn outsources hiring at the plant to third-party vendors. Those vendors were allegedly briefed by executives to skip over the cohort, and freely communicated the unwed requirement to candidates in job adverts, pamphlets and WhatsApp chats.

The ban, however, isn't absolute. It is relaxed during high-production periods to manage labor shortages, and agencies reportedly indicated they would help women conceal their marital status – particularly if their state ID card hasn’t been updated to indicate their nuptials. Foxconn denied the discriminatory policy to Reuters, as did Apple.

The Apple supplier said in 2022 it took corrective action against four agencies that were posting ads "that did not meet [company] standards."

The Register has asked Foxconn for additional comment and will report back should a substantial reply materialize.

Few Indian women work outside the home.

According to The World Bank, as of 2022 fewer than one in four Indian women work do so. Also in 2022, India's National Family Health Survey found that 32 percent of married women in India were employed – and 15 percent of the women working outside the home were not paid.

The survey also showed that hiring managers routinely consider marital status when making job offer decisions, even though it is well documented that economies benefit when both genders participate in the paid workforce and suffer when they do not.

India’s government is keen to remove impediments that prevent the nation from fulfilling its goal of becoming a major manufacturing hub – meaning it may have to overcome societal norms that could hurt the industry.

In line with its manufacturing goal, the country is claimed to be on track to produce a quarter of the world's iPhones by 2028. ®

Updated at 1111 UTC on June 27, 2024, to add

A spokesperson at Foxconn sent us this statement:

"We hire workers of all backgrounds, genders, races and marital status, and we do not stand for discrimination in hiring or recruitment. When we see an issue we act, including corrective action up to and including termination of the hiring agency.

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

The manufacturing giant describes itself as an "equal opportunity employer," and said it "enhanced our management process for hiring agencies in India in 2022 and identified four agencies that were posting ads that did not meet our standards. We took corrective action with those agencies and more than 20 job ads were removed."

In the latest round of recruitment, a quarter of those brought on board were married, we're told: "Married women are welcome to wear traditional metal ornaments while working in our facilities."

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