Foxconn can't seem to get a break. It's shutting one of its factories down in India after a group of workers were poisoned by what appears to be pesticides. Coming, as it does, after months of attention surrounding its Chinese workers' health, this can only be bad news for the Taiwanese firm.
The closure of one of its two Chennai plants has been prompted by what Foxconn is calling a pesticide-related incident that resulted in 250 workers being hospitalized. Fumigation is routine for a manufacturer of highest-end of consumer electronics, but the spraying on Friday resulted in "sensations of giddiness and nausea," and left half of its 500 workforce seeking medical assistance. All but 28 of the staff have since been released, but Foxconn has suspended operations at the plant until the situation can be verified—the company evidently doesn't want to shuttle folks back through the doors into a chemical-laden environment and see them fall ill again.
The firm admitted to using isoprophyl alcohol to clean its plants, which can lead to dizziness and vomiting, but it is not known whether this is the cause of the illness. C.V.M.P. Ezhilarasan, the president of Foxconn India, said that factory managers were putting it down to pesticide "sprayed in the air conditioning ducts which in turn affected the workers."
Given the fact that Foxconn has been constantly (if perhaps somewhat unfairly) in the news over the recent months for its alleged staff suicide problem among its Chinese workforce, this sort of precaution is a well thought-out business measure, as well as being a rigorous health and safety-protection matter. "We have asked the company to have the Sunguvarchatram plant inspected by experts and pollution control officials first, and start production only after the green signal from them," said Ezhilarasan.
Although shutting the plant down will cost money, it would be worse to lose a super-high-profile and lucrative customer like Apple (for whom Foxconn assembles the iPhone, among other products) which is shy of the bad PR that would come from associations with a tarnished Foxconn. It's the third largest employer in the region, after Hyundai and Nokia.
The Sunguvarchatram plant is described as a mobile accessories factory, and it was opened on Friday after a nine-month hiatus, "on the back of increased orders for mobile accessories." Perhaps this is where the iPhone bumpers are being made—after all, Apple only announced to the world ten days ago that it was giving out free bumpers to iPhone 4 users. Perhaps its the sudden demand—they're going to need millions of the glorified elastic bands, after all—that caused the reopening of the factory after so long. Fast Company reached out to Apple to find out if this is where the bumpers are manufactured but by the time of publication they had not responded.