We’re today learning more about what prompted the Foxconn iPhone plant shutdown in southern India – and it makes for truly gruesome reading.

We learned yesterday that Apple ordered Foxconn to suspend production at the plant, and placed the company on probation, until it resolved problems with living conditions in the company dormitories. It’s only today, however, that we’re getting the full picture of just how appalling those conditions were …

Reuters sent journalists to the iPhone plant to interview workers.

For women who assembled iPhones at a Foxconn plant in southern India, crowded dorms without flush toilets and food sometimes crawling with worms were problems to be endured for the paycheck.

But when tainted food sickened over 250 of the workers their anger boiled over, culminating in a rare protest that shut down a plant where 17,000 had been working […]

Workers slept on the floor in rooms, which housed between six to 30 women, five of these workers said. Two workers said the hostel they lived in had toilets without running water.

“People living in the hostels always had some illness or the other — skin allergies, chest pain, food poisoning,” another worker, a 21-year-old woman who quit the plant after the protest, told Reuters. Earlier food poisoning cases had involved one or two workers, she said.

“We didn’t make a big deal out of it because we thought it will be fixed. But now, it affected a lot of people,” she said.

Government inspectors also said that they found rats in the dormitory kitchens.

A total of 259 workers suffered from food poisoning in this one incident, 100 of which reportedly needed to be admitted to hospital.

Foxconn has also been accused of deliberately recruiting workers it considers less likely to protest.

Most workers are between 18 and 22 and come from rural areas of Tamil Nadu, the head of a women workers’ union said […]

Several activists and academics said women recruited from farming villages to work in Sriperumbudur’s factories are seen by employers as less likely to unionise or demonstrate, a factor that made the protests at the Foxconn factory – which isn’t unionised – even more notable.

At least four different government agencies are now carrying out investigations into working conditions at the plant. Foxconn says that it ramped up iPhone production too quickly to help meet demand, and that it is restructuring its local management.

Given the extreme nature of the failings, I’d hope that Apple will now carry out in-depth inspections of all Foxconn plants worldwide to ensure that there can be no repetition of this horrendous situation. While the company does set standards and carry out regular audits, it’s clear that the measures taken to date are wholly inadequate, and that much tighter supervision is needed.

The Reuters piece is worth reading in full.

Photo: Sudarshan Varadhan/Reuters

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