Police clash with Apple iPhone factory workers in China

to enlarge / Workers walk outside Hon Hai Group’s Foxconn plant in Shenzhen, China in 2010.

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

Factory workers in Zhengzhou shared more than a dozen videos showing staff standing off with lines of police armed with batons and wearing white protective gear. Videos show police beating workers, some bleeding from their heads and others walking away from the chaotic clashes.

Beijing’s strict zero-covid regime has posed major challenges to running Foxconn’s Zhengzhou plant, which normally employs more than 200,000 workers at a large campus in the city’s suburbs.

Wednesday’s volatility will add to investor concerns about Apple’s supply chain risks, with more than 95 percent of iPhones manufactured in China.

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

Two Foxconn factory workers said the protest began Wednesday morning after Apple’s manufacturing partner tried to deny bonuses to new workers who were quarantined before they were sent to the assembly line.

“Initially they just went to the plant to ask for an explanation from the executives, but they [the executives] They did not show their faces and called the police instead,” said a worker.

Another worker said there was growing discontent over the factory’s continued inability to contain a Covid outbreak, harsh living conditions and fear among workers that they would test positive.

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

The company said it has always fulfilled its contracts and will continue to “communicate and explain” to new employees. It said reports that the company mixed Covid-positive workers with those not yet infected were untrue.

Videos show workers flipping over cars on the Foxconn campus, charging into factory offices and hitting a Covid testing booth. Live streams from the scene Wednesday afternoon showed groups of workers milling about in a courtyard inside the building. Some activists were live-streaming the protests on social media until censors moved to stop the broadcast.

“The Foxconn situation raises concerns for China’s leaders as it challenges the narrative of being a reliable supplier,” said Shan Guo of Plenum China Research. “It’s clear the workers are not happy about being locked out,” he said.

Foxconn is working with the local government of Henan province, where the plant is located, to restock its assembly lines with new workers after a mass exodus of workers due to conditions at the plant late last month.

Local officials have been tasked with helping send workers to the plant, which is a major tax payer and accounted for 60 percent of the province’s exports in 2019.

Evan Lam, an analyst at Counterpoint Research, said Foxconn is already moving iPhone 14 production from its Zhengzhou factory amid the Covid crisis. He estimated that the Zhengzhou plant’s share of total iPhone 14 production has fallen from about 80 percent before the outbreak began to about 60 percent today.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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