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Foxconn Protest: Women Force Change at India iPhone Plant, Sick From Bad Food, Crowded Dorms

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By Reuters | Updated: 30 December 2021

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.

A close look by Reuters at the events before and after the December 17 protest casts a stark light on living and working conditions at Foxconn, a firm central to Apple’s supply chain.

The tumult comes at a time when Apple is ramping up production of its iPhone 13 and shareholders are pushing the company to provide greater transparency about labour conditions at suppliers. Reuters spoke to six women who worked at the Foxconn plant near Chennai. All of them requested they not to be named because of fear of retaliation on the job or from police.

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.
Foxconn plant on probation

Apple and Foxconn said on Wednesday they found that some dormitories and dining rooms used for employees at the factory did not meet required standards. The facility has been placed “on probation” and Apple will ensure its strict standards are met before the plant reopens, Apple said in a statement.

“We found 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.” Apple did not elaborate on the improvements that would be made for workers at the plant or the standards that would be applied. Laws governing housing for women workers in Tamil Nadu mandate each person be allocated at least 120 square feet of living space and require housing to adhere to hygiene and fire safety standards as laid out by local authorities. Foxconn said it was restructuring its local management team and taking immediate steps to improve facilities. All employees would continue to be paid while it makes necessary improvements to restart operations, the company said.

Venpa Staffing Services, a Foxconn contractor that runs the dorm where workers were sickened by food poisoning, declined to comment.

The food poisoning and subsequent protests have also led to investigations, some of which are ongoing, by at least four Tamil Nadu state agencies. Officials have also privately told Foxconn to ensure better conditions, senior state government officials said. “It is Foxconn’s responsibility,” Thangam Thennarasu, the industries minister of Tamil Nadu state told Reuters.

The Tamil Nadu state government said in a statement last week that the state had asked Foxconn to ensure that working and living conditions were improved, including the quality of housing and drinking water. Foxconn has agreed to ensure that worker living conditions follow government recommendations and meet legal requirements, the statement said.

Apple and Foxconn did not indicate in their statements when the plant would reopen. Foxconn had told state officials that it had “ramped up production too quickly,” though production was curtailed during April and May when the Delta variant of COVID-19 was raging in India, a senior government official from the state’s industries department told Reuters. Taiwan-based Foxconn opened the plant in 2019 with the promise of creating up to 25,000 jobs, a boost to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Make in India” campaign to create manufacturing jobs.

Sriperumbudur, a town outside Chennai where the factory is situated, is a busy industrial area with factories that make Samsung and Daimler products nearby. The factory is central to Apple’s efforts to shift production away from China due to tensions between Beijing and Washington. Reuters reported last year that Foxconn planned to invest up to $1 billion in the plant over three years. Foxconn contracts out the staffing of the factory to labour brokers, who are also responsible for housing the workers – mostly women – employed there.

Following the protests, food safety inspectors visited the hostel where the bout of food poisoning occurred and closed the dorm’s kitchen after finding rats and poor drainage, Jegadish Chandra Bose, a senior food safety officer in the Thiruvallur district where the hostel is located, told Reuters. “The samples analysed did not meet the required safety standards,” he said. The women who work at the Foxconn plant make the equivalent of about $140 (roughly Rs. 10,500) in a month and pay Foxconn’s contractor for housing and food while they work at the plant. Most workers are between 18 and 22 and come from rural areas of Tamil Nadu, the head of a women workers’ union said. The monthly pay at the plant is more than a third higher than the minimum wage for such jobs, according to state government guidelines.

The 21-year-old worker who quit following the protest, told Reuters that her parents are farmers growing rice and sugarcane. She said she looked for a city job like many others in her village and considered the Foxconn wages good. 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.

V. Gajendran, assistant professor at Madras School of Social Work in Chennai, said women recruited to work in nearby factories “typically come from larger, poor, rural families, which exposes them to exploitation and reduces their ability to unionise and fight for their rights.”

The food poisoning incident sent 159 women from one dorm to hospital on December 15, workers told Reuters. Some 100 more women needed medical attention but were not hospitalised, the Thiruvallur district administration said last week.

A rumour – later proved to be false – circulated that some of the women who had fallen sick had died. When some sick workers failed to show up for work at the factory two days later, others staged a protest when shifts were changing. “We were alarmed and we talked among each other in the hostel and decided to protest. There was no one leader,” one of the workers told Reuters. On December 17, about 2,000 women from the nearby Foxconn hostels took to the streets, blocking a key highway near the factory, the district administration said. Male workers, including some from a nearby auto factory, joined a renewed protest the next day, the Foxconn workers Reuters spoke to said.

Police responded to the larger, second protest by striking the male workers and then chasing and striking some of the women involved, two workers and Sujata Mody, a local union leader who had interviewed workers told Reuters.

Police detained 67 women workers and a local journalist, confiscated their phones, and called their parents with a warning to get their daughters in line, three of those detained, local union leaders, and a lawyer who was trying to help those detained told Reuters.

Reuters could not independently confirm the descriptions of the police response. M Sudhakar, the top police official in Kancheepuram district, denied that protesters were beaten, phones were confiscated, or that workers were intimidated by police. “We strictly adhered to guidelines and respected the rights of those who were detained. All rules were followed,” he told Reuters. K. Mohan, a village-level administrator who went to the hostel where the food poisoning incident occurred to investigate living conditions on December 16, found no safeguards to prevent COVID-19 infections, he told police in testimony reviewed by Reuters. “I went to that place to investigate since there is a chance that this place could become a COVID cluster,” Mohan told police. “The women were made to stay in the hostel where no coronavirus guidelines were being followed.”

The unrest at Foxconn was the second involving an Apple supplier in India in a year. In December 2020, thousands of contract workers at a factory owned by Wistron Corp destroyed equipment and vehicles over the alleged non-payment of wages, causing estimated damage of $60 million (roughly Rs. 447.552 crore).

Apple had then said it placed Wistron on probation and that it would not award the Taiwanese contract manufacturer new business until it addressed the way workers were treated at the plant. At the time, Wistron said it had worked to raise standards and fix issues at the factory, including the payroll systems. Wistron restarted operations at the plant earlier this year. Apple had no immediate comment on Wistron’s status when asked by Reuters.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Apple to Require Employee Proof of COVID-19 Booster: Report

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By Reuters | Updated: 17 January 2022

Apple will require retail and corporate employees to provide proof of a COVID-19 booster shot, The Verge reported on Saturday, citing an internal email.

Starting January 24, unvaccinated employees or those who haven’t submitted proof of vaccination will need negative COVID-19 tests to enter Apple workplaces, the report said. The Verge said it was not immediately clear if the testing requirement applies to both corporate and retail employees.

“Due to waning efficacy of the primary series of COVID-19 vaccines and the emergence of highly transmissible variants such as Omicron, a booster shot is now part of staying up to date with your COVID-19 vaccination to protect against severe disease,” the memo read, according to The Verge.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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Many companies in the US have been strengthening their COVID-19 rules, mandating vaccination and delaying back-to-office plans as the Omicron variant increases infections across the country.

This week, Facebook parent Meta Platforms mandated COVID-19 booster shots for all workers returning to offices. It also delayed US office reopenings to March 28, from an earlier plan of January 31.

Alphabet’s Google on Friday said it was temporarily mandating weekly COVID-19 tests for people entering its US offices.

A report by The Information said Amazon has offered its US warehouse workers $40 (roughly Rs. 2,970) to get a booster shot.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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TSMC to Boost Chip Spending in 2022, Sees Multi-Year Growth Ahead Due to Semiconductor Demand

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By Reuters | Updated: 13 January 2022

Taiwanese chip firm TSMC expects strong growth to accelerate in coming years due to booming semiconductor demand, as the tech giant on Thursday reported a record quarterly profit and said it plans to spend at least a third more than last year.

Soaring demand for semiconductors used in smartphones, laptops, and other gadgets during the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an acute chip crunch, forcing automakers and electronics manufacturers to cut production but keeping order books full at TSMC and other chipmakers.

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing (TSMC), a major Apple supplier that also has customers such as Qualcomm, posted a 16.4 percent rise in fourth-quarter profit.

The company said it expects to lift capital spending to between $40 billion (roughly Rs. 2,95,700 crore) and $44 billion (roughly Rs. 3,25,210 crore) this year. Last year it spent $30 billion (roughly Rs. 2,21,760 crore).

TSMC announced in 2021 a $100 billion (roughly Rs. 7,390 crore) expansion plan over the next few years, as new technologies such as fifth-generation (5G) telecommunications technology and artificial intelligence applications also drive chip demand.

The company is entering “a period of higher structural growth”, Chief Executive C. C. Wei told an online earnings briefing.

TSMC, Asia’s most valuable listed firm and globally the largest contract chipmaker, expects capacity to remain tight this year and demand to be sustained in the long term, Wei said.

“With fully-loaded foundry capacity, TSMC’s near-term order outlook remains healthy,” analysts at Taipei-based Fubon Research wrote in a note in early January.

With what it calls a “multi-year industry megatrend” of strong chip demand boosted by new technologies, TSMC raised its compound annual growth rate targets for revenue over the next several years to 15 percent-20 percent from 10 percent-15 percent.

Wei shrugged off market concerns about chip oversupply in the coming years and said a substantial increase of “silicon content” in tech gadgets such as electric cars would help TSMC weather market corrections.

“Even if a correction were to occur, we believe it could be less volatile for TSMC due to our technology leadership position and the structural megatrend,” Wei said.

The company set a long-term target of “53 percent and higher” for its gross margins, up from a previous target of “50 percent and higher”.

TSMC forecast first-quarter revenue to be in the range of $16.6 billion (roughly Rs. 1,22,710 crore) to $17.2 billion (roughly Rs. 1,27,140 crore), compared with $12.92 billion (roughly Rs. 95,500 crore) in the same period a year earlier. For the year, it expects to grow in the mid -to-high 20 percent range in US dollar terms.

That was higher than the TWD 161.6 billion (roughly Rs. 43,270 crore) average of 22 analyst estimates compiled by Refinitiv.

TSMC shares have gained about 7 percent so far this year, giving it a market value of $618 billion (roughly Rs. 45,67,760 crore). The stock closed 0.15 percent higher on Thursday before the financial results were released, slightly underperforming the broader market which finished up 0.33 percent.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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Pegasus Spyware Used to Hack Phones of Salvadoran Journalists Investigating Alleged State Corruption: Report

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By Reuters | Updated: 13 January 2022

The cell phones of nearly three dozen journalists and activists in El Salvador, several of whom were investigating alleged state corruption, have been hacked since mid-2020 and implanted with sophisticated spyware typically available only to governments and law enforcement, a Canadian research institute said it has found.

The alleged hacks, which came amid an increasingly hostile environment in El Salvador for media and rights organisations under populist President Nayib Bukele, were discovered late last year by The Citizen Lab, which studies spyware at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs. Human-rights group Amnesty International, which collaborated with Citizen Lab on the investigation, says it later confirmed a sample of Citizen Lab’s findings through its own technology arm.

Citizen Lab said it found evidence of incursions on the phones that occurred between July 2020 and November 2021. It said it could not identify who was responsible for deploying the Israeli-designed spyware. Known as Pegasus, the software has been purchased by state actors worldwide, some of whom have used the tool to surveil journalists.

In the El Salvador attack, the heavy focus on editors, reporters, and activists working inside that single Central American country points to a local customer with a particular interest in their activities, said Scott-Railton, a senior researcher at Citizen Lab.

“I can’t think of a case where near-exclusive Pegasus targeting in one country didn’t wind up being a user in that country,” Scott-Railton said.

Citizen Lab released a report on its findings on Wednesday.

In a statement to Reuters, Bukele’s communications office said the government of El Salvador was not a client of NSO Group Technologies, the company that developed Pegasus. It said the administration is investigating the alleged hacking and had information that some top administration officials also might have had their phones infiltrated.

“We have indications that we, government officials, are also victims of attacks,” the statement said.

Pegasus allows users to steal encrypted messages, photos, contacts, documents, and other sensitive information from infected phones without users’ knowledge. It can also turn handsets into eavesdropping devices by silently activating their cameras and microphones, according to product manuals reviewed by Reuters.

NSO, which has long kept its client list confidential, declined to comment on whether El Salvador was a Pegasus customer. The company said in a statement that it sells its products only to “vetted and legitimate” intelligence and law enforcement agencies to fight crime and that it is not involved in surveillance operations. NSO said it has a “zero-tolerance” policy for misuse of its spyware for activities such as monitoring dissidents, activists and journalists and that it has terminated contracts of some customers who have done so.

Citizen Lab researchers said they began a forensic analysis of the El Salvador phones in September after being contacted by two journalists there who suspected their devices might be compromised.

Researchers said they ultimately found evidence that spyware had been planted on a total of 37 devices belonging to three human-rights groups, six news publications and an independent journalist.

Hardest hit was the online news site El Faro. Citizen Lab researchers said they found telltale tracks of spyware infections on the cell phones of 22 reporters, editors and administrative personnel – more than two-thirds of the company’s staff – and evidence that data had been stolen from many of those devices, including a few that had several gigabytes of material extracted.

El Faro was under constant surveillance during at least 17 months, between June 29, 2020 and November 23, 2021, with the phone of Editor-in-Chief Oscar Martinez infiltrated at least 42 times, Citizen Lab claimed.

“It is hard for me to think or conclude something other than the government of El Salvador” was behind the alleged hacks, Martinez said. “It’s evident that there is a radical interest in understanding what El Faro is doing.”

During the time of the purported infiltrations with Pegasus, El Faro reported extensively on scandals involving Bukele’s government, including allegations that he was negotiating a financial deal with El Salvador’s violent street gangs to reduce the homicide rate to boost popular support for the president’s New Ideas party.

Bukele, who spars frequently with the press, publicly condemned El Faro’s reporting on those purported talks as “ridiculous” and “false information” in a September 3, 2020 Twitter post.

Phone snooping isn’t new to El Salvador, according to Citizen Lab. It alleged in a 2020 report that El Salvador was among at least 25 countries using a bulk surveillance technology made by an Israeli company called Circles. The Circles technology differs from Pegasus in that it vacuums up data from the global phone network instead of planting spyware on specific devices. The report claimed the Circles system had been in operation in El Salvador since 2017.

Circles could not immediately be reached for comment.

Sofia Medina, Bukele’s communications secretary, noted that his administration was not in power in 2017 and claimed, without providing evidence, that the alleged Pegasus attacks appeared to be a continuation of surveillance launched by an unknown “powerful group.”

Citizen Lab’s latest investigation in El Salvador was conducted as a collaboration with digital-rights group Access Now, with investigative assistance from human-rights groups Frontline Defenders, SocialTIC and Fundacion Acceso.

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Apple Supplier Foxconn Said to Resume Operations at Plant After Workers’ Protests Over Mass-Food Poisoning

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By Press Trust of India | Updated: 12 January 2022

After a brief hiatus, iPhone supplier Foxconn on Wednesday reopened its manufacturing facility near here as the company decided to resume operations, government sources said. The factory, located on the city outskirts of Chennai in Tamil Nadu was opened after remaining shut for over three weeks following workers’ protests on the back of a mass-food poisoning incident at the offsite dormitory facility.

Private buses were seen ferrying employees wearing face masks, inside the Sriperumbudur campus, about 40kms from here. “About 200 employees are joining today. We were told the plant will be operating in two shifts initially and later be scaled up,” a government source told PTI.

Tamil Nadu Industries Minister Thangam Thennarasu said the government was happy as the facility resumed operations following the issue getting resolved.

“Based on the suggestions provided by the government for the welfare of the employees, the management agreed to implement them, particularly to enhance the amenities provided to the women workforce”, he said.

The management assured that it would implement all the suggestions following the direct involvement of Chief Minister M K Stalin in the matter, he told reporters at the Secretariat here.

“I am happy to note that the facility is resuming operations today. The facility will continue to take up all necessary steps to ramp up production without any hurdles (hereafter)”, he said.

On January 10, Foxconn said it has implemented a range of corrective actions and would start bringing back team members gradually at the factory.

The facility was put on ‘probation’ by Apple following the protests by workers and an assessment revealed substandard living conditions at the dormitories and dining halls of the employees.

The unit has more than 15,000 people working on production of Apple products.

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Foxconn India iPhone Plant That Shuttered After Mass Food Poisoning Said to Reopen on January 12

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By Reuters | Updated: 10 January 2022

Apple supplier Foxconn will reopen its shuttered iPhone manufacturing facility in southern India on January 12, government officials and a legislator in the region where the plant is located told Reuters.

The Foxconn plant, located in the state of Tamil Nadu, was closed on December 18 following protests over 250 of its workers being treated for food poisoning.

Apple has since placed the factory on probation after discovering that some dormitories and dining rooms did not meet required standards.

Foxconn and Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

An Apple spokesperson had said that the company had dispatched independent auditors to assess conditions at the dormitories “following recent concerns about food safety and accommodation conditions at Foxconn Sriperumbudur.”

“We found 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.”

Foxconn had said it was restructuring its local management team to ensure it can achieve and maintain the standards needed, and was taking immediate steps to improve facilities. All employees would continue to be paid while it makes necessary improvements to restart operations.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Apple CEO Tim Cook Earned Over 1,400 Times the Company’s Average Worker in 2021

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By Reuters | Updated: 8 January 2022

Apple boss Tim Cook’s pay in 2021 was 1,447 times that of the average employee at the tech giant, a filing on Thursday showed, fueled by stock awards that helped him earn a total of nearly $100 million (roughly Rs. 742.31 crore).

In 2021, the median pay for employees was $68,254 (roughly Rs. 50.66 lakh), Apple said, adding it had selected a new median employee for comparison due to changes in hiring and compensation.

The median pay in 2020 was $57,783 (roughly Rs. 42.89 lakh) and the pay ratio was 256 times Cook’s salary.

The iPhone maker has benefited from strong demand over the past two years as consumers working from home splurged on upgrades. Apple’s revenue rose more than 30 percent to $365.82 billion (roughly Rs. 27,15,521 crore) for its fiscal 2021 and its shares briefly crossed $3 trillion (roughly Rs. 2,22,69,270 crore) in market capitalization this year.

Cook, whose salary remained at $3 million (roughly Rs. 22.26 crore), received $82.3 million (roughly Rs. 610.92 crore) in stock awards, $12 million (roughly Rs. 89.07 crores) for hitting Apple’s targets and $1.4 million (roughly Rs. 10.39 crore) for air travel, 401(k) plan, insurance premiums and others.

In total, he earned $98.7 million (roughly Rs. 732.65 crores), compared with $14.8 million (roughly Rs. 109.86 crores) in 2020.

Cook took the helm in August 2011 after the company’s co-founder Steve Jobs stepped down months before his demise. The stock has surged over 1,000 percent since Cook took charge.

In September, Cook received 333,987 restricted stock units, in his first stock grant since 2011 as part of a long-term equity plan. He will be eligible to receive additional units in 2023.

Cook told Fortune magazine in 2015 that he plans to donate his wealth to charity.

CEOs in the United States were paid 351 times more than the typical worker in 2020, a report by the Economic Policy Institute showed, while the compensation of top CEOs grew roughly 60 faster than the stock market from 1978 to 2020, eclipsing the slow 18 percent growth in a typical worker’s annual pay.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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