Huge Foxconn iPhone plant in China rocked by fresh worker unrest
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[November 23, 2022] By
Brenda Goh and Yimou Lee
SHANGHAI/TAIPEI (Reuters) -Hundreds of workers joined protests at
Foxconn's flagship iPhone plant in China, with some men smashing
surveillance cameras and windows, footage uploaded on social media
The rare scenes of open dissent in China mark an escalation of unrest at
the massive factory in Zhengzhou city that has come to symbolise a
dangerous build-up in frustration with the country's ultra-harsh COVID
rules as well as inept handling of the situation by the world's largest
The trigger for the protests, which began early on Wednesday, appeared
to be a plan to delay bonus payments, many of the demonstrators said on
livestream feeds. The videos could not be immediately verified by
"Give us our pay!", chanted workers who were surrounded by people in
full hazmat suits, some carrying batons, according to footage from one
video. Other footage showed tear gas being deployed and workers taking
down quarantine barriers. Some workers had complained they were forced
to share dormitories with colleagues who had tested positive for
Foxconn said in a statement it had fulfilled its payment contracts and
that reports of infected staff living on campus with new recruits were
"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
plant was unaffected by the worker unrest and output remained "normal".
Reuters has previously reported that Foxconn aimed to resume full
production at the Zhengzhou iPhone plant by the second half of November.
While the latest unrest has added "uncertainties" to the target, the
source said the company was still working hard to hit it, adding that
"only a portion" of the new recruits took part in the unrest.
A second source familiar with the matter, however, said Foxconn was
unlikely to hit the target, pointing to disruptions triggered by the
unrest, impacting particularly new recruits who were hired to bridge the
gap in the workforce.
"Originally, we were trying to see if the new recruits could go online
by the end of November. But with the unrest, it's certain that we can't
resume normal production by the month-end."
Discontent over strict quarantine rules, the company's inability to
stamp out outbreaks and poor conditions including shortages of food had
caused workers to flee the factory campus since the Apple Inc supplier
imposed a so-called closed loop system at the world's biggest iPhone
plant in late October.
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Under closed-loop operations, staff live and work on site, isolated
from the wider world.
Former workers have estimated that thousands fled the factory
campus. Before the unrest, the Zhengzhou plant employed some 200,000
people. To retain staff and lure more workers Foxconn has had to
offer bonuses and higher salaries.
Local authorities also stepped in to help, with some urging retired
soldiers and government workers to take on stints, according to
local media reports.
The first source said that the eagerness of local authorities to
recruit workers may have played a role in causing "miscommunication"
with the new hires on issues including allowance and accommodation.
The Zhengzhou government did not immediately respond to a faxed
request for comment.
In the videos, workers vented about how they were never sure if they
would get meals while in quarantine or over inadequate curbs to
contain an outbreak.
"Foxconn never treats humans as humans," said one person.
Apple did not respond to requests for comment.
"It's now evident that closed-loop production in Foxconn only helps
in preventing COVID from spreading to the city, but does nothing (if
not make it even worse) for the workers in the factory," Aiden Chau
of China Labour Bulletin, a Hong Kong-based advocacy group, said in
As of Wednesday afternoon, most of the footage on Kuaishou, a social
media platform where Reuters reviewed many of the videos, had been
taken down. Kuaishou did not respond to a request for comment.
The protest images come at a time when investors are concerned about
escalating global supply-chain issues, due in part to China's zero-COVID
policies that aim to stamp out every outbreak.
The curbs and discontent have hit production. Reuters last month
reported that iPhone output at the Zhengzhou factory could slump by
as much as 30% in November due to COVID restrictions.
Foxconn is Apple's biggest iPhone maker, accounting for 70% of
iPhone shipments globally. It makes most of the phones at the
Zhengzhou plant, though it has other smaller production sites in
India and southern China.
Shares of Foxconn, formally called Hon Hai Precision Industry Co
Ltd, have slipped 2% 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 ;
Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Edwina Gibbs, Louise
Heavens and Bernadette Baum)
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