Friday 23 July, Foxconn’s Sunguvarchatram plant in Tamil Nadu, South India, was temporarily shut down due to an occupational health incident involving approximately 250 workers. The Tamil Nadu state government ordered the closure of the plant till all safety aspects are checked and cleared by the authorities concerned.

Friday 23 July, Foxconn’s Sunguvarchatram plant in Tamil Nadu, South India, was temporarily shut down due to an occupational health incident. The Tamil Nadu state government ordered the closure of the plant till all safety aspects are checked and cleared by the authorities concerned. In total some 250 were affected, of whom 28 had to undergo further observation.

"Around 2 pm Friday after the lunch time six female workers fainted and were hospitalized in Sriperumbudur. Subsequently the second shift was cancelled," said C.V.M.P. Ezhilarasan, president of  the local trade union Foxconn India Thozilalar Munnetra Sangam (TMS). TMS is affiliated to the Labour Progressive Front, the labour wing of the ruling DMK party. According to TMS, around 15 minutes into the third/night shift some workers fainted and the remaining workers came out of the factory. 

The cause of the health incident is disputed. Local trade union and NGOs claim a gas leak occurred. The company speaks of routine pesticide spraying.

A senior Foxconn India official, not wanting to be identified, told the media that the Sunguvarchatram plant does not have any gas tanks. He said workers at the plant will be shifted to the company's main plant at Sriperumbudur from Monday. In a statement dated 26 July, Foxconn International Holdings Ltd wrote  to believe that the incident may have been caused by the routine spraying of pesticide at the production facility.

In an email to GoodElectronics of 28 July, a local NGO claims that Foxconn is issuing misleading information about the incident. Affected workers and trade union  members have categorically said that the incident is not due to pesticide spraying but due to a gas leak. Workers were unable to provide the exact name of the chemical, but trade union TMS president Ezhilarasan informed the press that the Sunguvarchatram plant uses isopropyl alcohol, a colourless flammable chemical with strong odour, as a cleaning agent in all the sections. The symptoms of isopropyl alcohol poisoning include flushing, headache, dizziness, nausea and vomiting. Ezhilarasan could, however, not say isopropyl poisoning was the reason behind workers falling sick.

 

Civil society organizations dispute the company's explanation of the incident and have drafted a petition to be sent to Tamil Nadu's Chief at cmcell@tn.gov.in.                   

  • They call for an investigation by an independent team of environmental and safety experts to be appointed along with trade union leaders and the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board Officials. This team should look into the safety and environment of the factory.
  • The Foxconn plant should be issued a new license only after thorough inspection of the factory.
  • All the affected workers (about 250) should be paid compensation of Rs 50,000/- immediately along with covering all medical expenses by Foxconn.

 

The Sunguvarchatram plant is located at the special economic zone (SEZ) in Sriperumbudur. The plant is principally engaged in the manufacture of mobile telephone mechanical parts and employs about 500 workers. After being closed for nearly nine months, the plant had reopened on Friday 23 July on the back of increased orders for mobile accessories.

Foxconn India, part of $1.74 billion the Taiwan-based Foxconn Technology Group, is the third largest industrial employer in Tamil Nadu with around 7,000 workers, after Hyundai Motor India and Nokia India.