Foxconn’s huge iPhone factory in China rocked by new worker unrest

  • Images on the internet show hundreds of workers protesting
  • Surveillance cameras and windows smashed by men with sticks
  • Workers complain about unpaid wages and insufficient food

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

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

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

“Give us our wages!” workers surrounded by people in full protective suits, some with batons, chanted, according to video footage. Other footage showed tear gas being used and workers tearing down quarantine barriers.

Discontent over strict quarantine rules, the company’s inability to stamp out outbreaks, and poor conditions, including food shortages, have caused workers to flee the factory campus since Apple Inc.’s supplier (AAPL.O) imposed a so-called closed-loop system on its the world’s largest iPhone factory at the end of October.

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

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

In the videos, workers said they were never sure if they would go get meals while quarantined, or they complained that there weren’t enough curbs to contain an outbreak.

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

Two sources with knowledge of the matter said there were protests at the Zhengzhou campus, but declined to provide more details. They refused to be identified because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Foxconn and Apple did not respond to requests for comment.

“It is now clear that closed loop production at Foxconn only helps prevent COVID from spreading to the city, but does nothing (or even makes things worse) for the workers at the factory,” China Labor’s Aiden Chau Bulletin, a Hong Kong-based advocacy group, said in an email.

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

The protest footage comes as investors are concerned about escalating global supply chain problems, due in part to China’s zero-COVID policy that aims to stamp out any outbreak.

The curbs and discontent have hit production. Reuters reported last month that iPhone production at the Zhengzhou factory could drop by as much as 30% in November due to COVID restrictions. read more

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

Shares of Foxconn, formally called Hon Hai Precision Industry Co Ltd, are down 2% since the unrest erupted 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

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Principles of Trust.

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