Apple iPhone factory workers clash with police in China

Enlarge / Workers walk outside Hon Hai Group’s Foxconn factory in Shenzhen, China, in 2010.

Violent worker protests have erupted at the world’s largest iPhone factory in central China as authorities at the Foxconn factory scramble to contain a COVID-19 outbreak while maintaining production ahead of the busy holiday season .

Workers at the Zhengzhou factory shared more than a dozen videos showing staff in a standoff with rows of police armed with batons and dressed in white protective gear. The videos show police beating workers, with some bleeding from their heads and others limping away from chaotic clashes.

Beijing’s strict zero-COVID regime has created major challenges for the operation of the Foxconn factory in Zhengzhou, which typically employs more than 200,000 workers on a large campus in the city’s suburbs.

Wednesday’s turmoil will heighten investor concerns about the supply chain at Apple, as more than 95 percent of iPhones are manufactured in China.

Problems at the factory earlier this month led Apple to lower estimates for high-end iPhone 14 shipments and issue a rare warning to investors about the delays.

Two workers at the Foxconn plant said protests erupted Wednesday morning after Apple’s manufacturing partner attempted to reject bonuses promised to new workers who were quarantined before being sent to the assembly line.

“Initially they just went into the factory to seek explanations from executives, but they [the executives] didn’t show their faces and instead called the police,” said one of the workers.

Another worker said there was growing dissatisfaction with the plant’s continued inability to contain a COVID outbreak, difficult living conditions and fear among staff that they might test positive.

Foxconn said the company would work with employees and the government to prevent further acts of violence.

The company said it had always honored its contracts and would continue to “communicate and explain” that to new hires. It said reports that the company had mixed COVID-positive employees with those not yet infected were untrue.

Videos show workers flipping carts on the Foxconn campus, storming into the plant’s offices and pounding a COVID testing booth. Livestreams of the scene on Wednesday afternoon showed groups of workers walking around a courtyard between buildings. Some workers were livestreaming the protests on social media until censorship stepped in to shut down the broadcasts.

“The Foxconn situation worries China’s leaders as it challenges the story of a reliable supplier,” said Shan Guo of Plenum China Research. “Clearly, workers are not happy about being cooped up,” she said.

Foxconn is working with the local government in Henan province, where the factory is located, to repopulate assembly lines with new workers following a mass exodus of workers late last month due to conditions at the factory.

Local officials have been tasked with sending workers to the factory, which is a major taxpayer and was responsible for 60 percent of the province’s exports in 2019.

Ivan Lam, an analyst at Counterpoint Research, said Foxconn had already moved production of iPhone 14 from its Zhengzhou factory due to the COVID issues. He estimated that the Zhengzhou factory’s share of total iPhone 14 production is now just 60 percent, up from about 80 percent before the outbreak began.

Apple did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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