Hundreds of workers at Apple’s main iPhone-making plant in China clashed with security personnel, as tensions boiled over after almost a month under tough restrictions intended to quash a Covid outbreak.
Workers at the Foxconn Technology Group plant streamed out of dormitories in the early hours of Wednesday, jostling and pushing past the white-clad guards they vastly outnumbered, according to videos sent by a witness to portions of the protest. Several white-suited people pummelled a person lying on the ground with sticks in another clip. Onlookers yelled “fight, fight!” as throngs of people forced their way past barricades. At one point, several surrounded an occupied police car and began rocking the vehicle while screaming incoherently.
The protest started overnight over unpaid wages and fears of spreading infection, according to the witness, asking to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions. Several workers were injured and anti-riot police arrived on the scene on Wednesday to restore order, the person added.
WARNING: Graphic Content. Hundreds of workers at Apple’s main iPhone plant in China clashed with security staff after being locked up for weeks to quash a Covid outbreak.
— Bloomberg Quicktake (@Quicktake) November 23, 2022
In one video, irate workers surrounded a silent, downcast manager in a conference room to voice grievances and question their Covid test results. It wasn’t clear when the meeting took place.
“I’m really scared about this place, we all could be Covid positive now,” a male worker said. “You are sending us to death,” another person said.
A Foxconn representative declined to comment on the incident.
The rare instances of violence at the plant in the central city of Zhengzhou reflects a build-up of tensions since the lockdown began in October. Many among the vast workforce of more than 200 000 at “iPhone City” have been plunged into isolation, forced to subsist on spartan meals and scrounge for medication.
Many eventually fled the plant on foot last month. Foxconn and the local government appeared to have got the situation under control in recent weeks, promising unusually high wages to attract new staff and promising better working conditions.
Wednesday morning’s protests suggest that is no longer the case. It underscores how Xi Jinping’s Covid Zero policy, which relies on swift lockdowns to stamp out the disease wherever it pops up, is increasingly weighing on the economy and throwing swathes of the global supply chain into disarray. Beijing recently issued new directives ordering officials to minimise disruption and use more targeted Covid controls, but surging outbreaks in major cities have forced local authorities to reach for strict curbs again.
Violence has erupted sporadically across China over Covid restrictions. In May, hundreds of workers clashed with security personnel at Quanta Computer’s factory in Shanghai after they were barred for months from contact with the outside world, while protests have emerged in locked-down areas of Guangdong, the southern manufacturing hub.
The Foxconn situation serves up another reminder of the dangers for Apple of relying on a vast production machine centred on China at a time of unpredictable policy and uncertain trade relations.
Zhengzhou is the site of Apple’s most critical production, churning out an estimated four in five of its latest-generation handsets and the vast majority of the highest-end iPhone 14 Pro units. Apple warned this month that shipments of its newest premium iPhones will be lower than previously expected — just ahead of the peak holiday season shopping.
The sprawling compound has operated for weeks within a “closed loop”, or a self-contained bubble that limits contact with the outside world. That is keeping some production going. Apple and Foxconn have said they’re working to replace staff who’ve left and resume full production as soon as possible. — (c) 2022 Bloomberg LP