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India iPhone factory vandalized after workers claim they weren’t paid by Apple supplier

An iPhone factory in India run by a Taiwanese manufacturer was vandalized over the weekend after workers claimed they were not being paid their wages, prompting Apple (AAPL) to launch an investigation.
Footage circulating on social media appeared to show people smashing glass panels and tearing down CCTV cameras at the facility. Owned by Taiwan’s Wistron, the plant is located in Narasapura, roughly 40 miles outside of Bangalore in southern India.

CNN Business could not independently verify the footage. But police in the southern Indian state of Karnataka arrested more than 120 people involved in the incident, according to Shivaram Hebbar, the state’s labor minister.

Details about the incident are murky. Some Indian media reports described the vandals as employees who were “furious over delayed salaries.”

Wistron — a major Apple supplier that employs roughly 10,000 permanent and temporary workers at the India factory — estimated that the violence had caused as much as $7 million worth of damage, according to a statement it made to the Taiwan Stock Exchange on Tuesday.

“The company has cooperated with relevant authorities and the police in investigations and is continuing to negotiate with insurance companies,” the company said.

Wistron has not responded to multiple requests from CNN Business for comment. But in a statement to Agence France-Presse, the company said that the incident “was caused by people of unknown identities from outside who intruded into and damaged its facility with unclear intentions.” In that statement, Wistron also “pledged to follow local labor [laws] and other related regulations” to resume operations as soon as possible.

Apple told CNN Business that it has “teams on the ground” and has launched an investigation at the facility and dispatched additional Apple employees and auditors.
“Apple is dedicated to ensuring everyone in our supply chain is treated with dignity and respect,” the company said. “Our teams are in close touch with the local authorities, and we’re offering our full support to their investigation.”

India is an increasingly important market for Apple, though the company has a long way to go. Market research firm Canalys estimated earlier that the company captures just 2% of the Indian smartphone market. That’s because many of the company’s products are seen as prohibitively expensive for most Indians.

To help lower costs, the company has ramped up manufacturing in India. In 2017, it began making iPhones locally for the first time, and recently, it also started domestic production of the iPhone 11.

India iPhone factory vandalized after workers claim they weren't paid by Apple supplier
India iPhone factory vandalized after workers claim they weren’t paid by Apple supplier (iPhone factory)

Hebbar, the local labor minister, said that workers at the plant claimed they had not been paid for three months.

“They have a right to their salary, and it is our responsibility to get them their salaries,” he said. “But now this violence has happened, and so much loss has taken place.”

The workers’ claims apparently extend beyond the lack of pay. Satyanand Mukund, regional secretary of the All India Trade Union Congress, told CNN Business that employees at the plant say they work 12-hour shifts, which would violate Indian labor law. While Mukund’s labor organization does not represent the Wistron workers in an official capacity, the workers had been in contact with the union in the wake of the incident, he added.

Problems at the plant aren’t new. Mukund said that the workers held a peaceful protest about a month ago to demand their wages and reduce their hours.

The weekend’s incident was condemned by the state’s deputy chief minister, C.N. Ashwathnarayan.

“Nobody must take the law in their own hands,” he wrote Monday on Twitter. “There are appropriate forums to resolve such issues without indulging in this wonton violence,” he said. “We will ensure that all workers’ rights are duly protected, and all their dues are cleared.”

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