Violent protests erupt at China’s largest iPhone factory

Violent protests have erupted around Foxconn’s major iPhone factory in central China, as workers clashed with security staff over wages and living conditions at the factory.

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In videos shared on Weibo and Twitter verified by AFP, hundreds of workers can be seen marching on a road in broad daylight. Some were confronted by riot police and people in hazmat suits.

Foxconn confirmed the unrest later Wednesday.

A Foxconn worker shared live footage of the ongoing protest at the Zhengzhou factory. He said workers had marched out of their dormitories this morning to demand compensation, now they are facing riot police.

— Viola Zhou (@violazhouyi) November 23, 2022

A nighttime video showed a man with a bloody face as someone off camera says: “They’re hitting people, hitting people. Do they have a conscience?”

Another at the same location showed dozens of workers confronting a line of police shouting, “Defend our rights! Defend our rights!”, while another voice speaks of “smoke bombs” and “tear gas”.

AFP verified these videos in part through geolocation that showed distinctive features, including a building and barricades near staff housing at the factory.

In a daytime video, several fire trucks surrounded by police in hazmat suits were parked near residential areas while a voice on a loudspeaker was heard saying: “All workers please return to your accommodation, do not associate with a small minority of illegal elements.”

China’s relentless zero-Covid policy has caused weariness and resentment among broad sections of the population, some of whom have been locked up for weeks in factories and universities or unable to travel freely.

The Weibo hashtag “Foxconn riots” appeared to be censored by midday Wednesday but some text posts referring to major protests at the factory remained live.

Foxconn said workers had complained about wages and conditions at the factory but denied it had housed new recruits with Covid-positive staff at the Zhengzhou factory, the world’s biggest maker of iPhones.

“Regarding any potential violence, the company will continue to communicate with employees and the government to prevent similar incidents from happening again,” the Taiwanese tech giant said in a statement.

Apple did not respond to requests for comment.

Trouble spot

Foxconn, also known by its official name Hon Hai Precision Industry, is the world’s largest contract electronics manufacturer, assembling gadgets for many international brands.

The Taiwanese tech giant, Apple’s top supplier, recently saw a spike in Covid-19 cases at its Zhengzhou facility, prompting the company to shut down the vast complex in an effort to contain the virus.

The massive facility with some 200,000 workers – dubbed “iPhone City” – has since operated in a “closed-loop” bubble.

Footage emerged this month of panicked workers fleeing the site on foot in the wake of allegations of poor conditions at the plant.

Several employees later told AFP of scenes of chaos and disorganization in the complex of workshops and dormitories.

In place of the fleeing workers, the company has offered big bonuses and other incentives to employees who stayed while the local government bussed in fresh workers in an effort to keep the factory afloat.

Apple acknowledged this month that the shutdown “temporarily affected” production ahead of the holiday season at the Zhengzhou factory, the crown jewel of the Taiwanese company, which churns out iPhones in quantities not seen elsewhere.

Foxconn is China’s largest private employer, with more than a million people working across the country in some 30 factories and research institutes.

China is the last major economy to be committed to a strategy to extinguish outbreaks of Covid as they emerge, imposing lockdowns, mass testing and lengthy quarantines despite the widespread disruption to businesses and international supply chains.

The policy has sparked sporadic protests across China, with residents taking to the streets of several major Chinese cities to vent their anger at rapid shutdowns and business closures.


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