India's human rights watchdog announced on Monday that it has instructed government officials to investigate allegations of discrimination by Foxconn, following a Reuters report which revealed that the major Apple supplier has been excluding married women from iPhone assembly jobs in the country.

In a statement, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) issued notices to the secretary of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's labour ministry and the chief secretary of the Tamil Nadu state government, where a significant iPhone factory is located, requesting a detailed report within a week.

"NHRC notes that if these allegations are true, they raise a grave issue of discrimination against married women, infringing upon their right to equality and equal opportunity," the statement read. The Reuters report has ignited discussions on television, in newspaper editorials, and calls from various women's groups, including those within Modi's party and opposition parties, demanding an investigation into the issue. The federal government has also requested a detailed report from the Tamil Nadu state government.

Neither Modi's labour ministry, Apple, nor Taiwan-based Foxconn responded promptly to requests for comment. A spokesperson for the Tamil Nadu government directed inquiries to the labour department, which did not respond. The Reuters investigation uncovered that Foxconn had systematically barred married women from employment at its primary iPhone plant in India, citing greater family responsibilities compared to unmarried women. Foxconn's hiring agents and HR sources mentioned family duties, pregnancy, and higher absenteeism as reasons for not employing married women.

In response to the investigation, Apple and Foxconn admitted to shortcomings in their hiring practices in 2022 and stated that they had taken steps to rectify these issues. However, all documented discriminatory practices at the Tamil Nadu plant occurred in 2023 and 2024, which the companies did not address. Foxconn has vehemently denied allegations of employment discrimination based on marital status, gender, religion, or any other factors. Apple has affirmed that all its suppliers, including Foxconn, hire married women and that they took immediate action in 2022 when concerns about hiring practices were raised, conducting monthly audits to identify issues and ensure adherence to high standards.

Indian law does not prohibit companies from discriminating in hiring based on marital status, although Apple's and Foxconn's policies explicitly forbid such practices in their supply chains. The NHRC emphasized that gender equality is not only a requirement in the Indian constitution but also in international treaties and covenants. State authorities are urged to ensure that all companies comply with labour laws and regulations.