China’s giant Foxconn iPhone factory rocked by fresh worker unrest

  • Images online show hundreds of workers protesting
  • Surveillance cameras and broken windows by men with sticks
  • Workers complain about late pay, insufficient food
  • Foxconn says it is working to prevent a repeat of the violence

SHANGHAI/TAIPEI, Nov 23 (Reuters) – Hundreds of workers joined protests at Foxconn’s ( 2317.TW ) flagship iPhone factory in China, with some men smashing surveillance cameras and windows, footage uploaded to social media showed socialization.

The rare scenes of open dissent in China mark an escalation of unrest at the massive factory in the city of Zhengzhou, which has come to symbolize a dangerous build-up of frustration over the country’s ultra-tough COVID rules, as well as the inept handling of the situation by the most largest contract manufacturer in the world.

The trigger for the protests, which began early Wednesday, appeared to be a plan to delay bonus payments, many of the demonstrators said on live streams. The videos could not be immediately verified by Reuters.

“Give us our pay!” chanted the workers who were surrounded by men in hazmat suits, some carrying batons, according to video footage. Other images showed tear gas being fired and workers tearing down quarantine barriers. Some workers complained that they were forced to share dormitories with colleagues who tested positive for COVID-19.

Foxconn said in a statement that it had fulfilled its payment contracts and that reports of infected staff living on campus with new recruits were “untrue”.

“Regarding any violence, the company will continue to communicate with employees and the government to prevent similar incidents from happening again,” the company added.

A source familiar with the situation in Zhengzhou said production at the factory was not affected by the workers’ unrest and production remained “normal”.

Reuters previously reported that Foxconn aimed to resume full production at its Zhengzhou iPhone factory by the second half of November.

While the latest unrest added “uncertainties” to the target, the source said the company was still working hard to achieve it, adding that “only a fraction” of the new recruits had taken part in the unrest.

A second source familiar with the matter, however, said Foxconn was unlikely to meet the target, pointing to the disruption caused by the unrest, which has particularly affected new recruits who have been hired to close the workforce gap.

“Initially, we tried to see if the new recruits could come online by the end of November. But with the unrest, it’s certain that we can’t resume normal production until the end of the month.”


Dissatisfaction with strict quarantine rules, the company’s inability to contain outbreaks and poor conditions, including food shortages, have prompted workers to walk off the factory campus since supplier Apple Inc ( AAPL.O ) imposed the so-called closed-loop system to the largest system in the world. iPhone factory at the end of October.

In closed-loop operations, personnel live and work on-site, isolated from the rest of the world.

Former workers estimated that thousands fled the factory campus. Before the unrest, the Zhengzhou factory employed about 200,000 people. To retain staff and attract more workers, Foxconn had to offer bonuses and higher wages.

Local authorities have also stepped in to help, with some asking retired soldiers and government workers to take over, according to local media reports.

The first source said local authorities’ eagerness to recruit workers may have played a role in causing “miscommunication” with new hires over issues such as allowances and accommodation.

The Zhengzhou government did not immediately respond to a faxed request for comment.


In the videos, workers said they were never sure if they would receive meals in quarantine or over inappropriate curbs to contain an outbreak.

“Foxconn never treats people like people,” one person said.

Apple did not respond to requests for comment.

“It’s now clear that Foxconn’s closed-loop manufacturing only helps prevent the spread of COVID in the city, but does nothing (if not worse) for factory workers,” Aiden Chau of the China Labor Bulletin, a Hong. The Kong advocacy group said in an email.

As of Wednesday afternoon, most of the posts on Kuaishou, a social media platform where Reuters analyzed many of the videos, had been removed. Kuaishou did not respond to a request for comment.

The protest images come as investors worry about escalating problems with the global supply chain, in part because of China’s zero-covid policies that aim to contain every outbreak.

Limits and grievances hit production. Reuters reported last month that iPhone production at the Zhengzhou factory could fall by as much as 30 percent in November due to the COVID restrictions. Read more

Foxconn is Apple’s largest iPhone maker, accounting for 70% of iPhone shipments globally. It makes most of its phones at its Zhengzhou plant, although it has other smaller manufacturing sites in India and southern China.

Shares in Foxconn, formally called Hon Hai Precision Industry Co Ltd, have fallen 2 percent since the unrest emerged in late October.

Reporting by Brenda Goh and Beijing Newsroom; Additional reporting by David Kirton in Shenzhen, Yimou Lee in Taipei and Yew Lun Tian; Written by Anne Marie Roantree; Edited by Edwina Gibbs, Louise Heavens and Bernadette Baum

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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