Manjunath Kiran / AFP
An iPhone assembly factory in India erupted in a violent protest on Saturday, Dec. 12. Alleging that they hadn’t been paid wages for more than four months and were being forced to work extra shifts, employees of the Wistron Corporation -- a Taiwanese company used by Apple -- in the southern Indian state of Bengaluru began to riot. Viral videos of the protest showed workers smashing windows, breaking CCTV cameras and equipment, and reportedly setting a car on fire. In its complaint, Wistron accused more than 5,000 contract workers as well as 2,000 others of destroying property worth INR 4.38 billion rupees ($60 million).
“The industrial violence in Wistron is a direct result of the brutal exploitation of workers and sweatshop-like conditions created by a company, manufacturing the most expensive mobile phones,” Secretary of the Bengaluru chapter of All India Trade Union Congress said in a statement. They added that the state government had allowed the company to flout basic rights of the workers like payment of wages and working hours. “In the absence of any regulation, anarchy has prevailed and both the management and the state government should be held accountable. Harassment of the workers by police should be stopped immediately and corrective measures to ensure regulation of working conditions should be undertaken immediately.” The facility was set up this year to assemble iPhone SE models.
“Month after month, our payment was much less than we were promised. It made it difficult for us to even pay our living costs,” an employee told VICE World News, requesting anonymity. “There was no proper punch-in system being recorded either. On paper, it would only show a certain number of hours, though we had worked four hours overtime on most days.”
Apple announced on Dec. 14 that it was investigating whether its Taiwanese contractor violated supplier guidelines. It has now sent a team to look into the matter and said they will comply with the police. Local state police have arrested at least 149 workers over the violence.
“This was a result of extreme frustration,” Krishna Siddi, the general secretary of the union, told VICE World News. As a union member, Siddi was privy to the struggles of the employees. “The factory had opened about eight months ago, and earlier employees had only 8-hour shifts. Then, they made 12-hour shifts, and said they would be compensated with overtime or promised to make contract workers permanent employees. But the compensation never came,” he said. According to Siddi, some female contract workers have also complained of sexual harassment at the facility. “Workers are now being arrested or threatened with a penalty they cannot afford, so they are now scared for their lives and livelihoods,” he said.
Under Tim Cook, Apple has been looking to expand its operations in the Indian subcontinent, one of its biggest markets. Wistron has been manufacturing iPhones in India for almost four years and is seen as a success in terms of boosting foreign business operations and investment in India.