Wednesday, Nov 30, 2022

China: Angry Protests At Zhengzhou IPhone Factory Over Lax Covid Protocols, Workers Rights By Subcontractor Foxconn

The trigger for the Wednesday protests appears to be a plan to delay bonus payments, said demonstrators on livestream feeds. Similar protests broke out late October.

Video grab of Zhengzhou iPhone factory protest
Video grab of Zhengzhou iPhone factory protest | Twitter

Protests erupted on Wednesday at the world’s biggest iPhone factory in Zhengzhou, due to China’s ultra-harsh Covid rules and inept handling of the situation by Apple's main subcontractor Foxconn. Similar riots erupted here since the last week of October.

The trigger for the protests, which began early in the day, appeared to be a plan to delay bonus payments, many of the demonstrators said on livestream feeds. “Give us our pay!” chanted workers, marching, who were confronted by people in full hazmat suits, riot police, some carrying batons, and clashes ensuing. Other footage showed tear gas being deployed and workers taking down quarantine barriers.

Those livestreaming the protests said workers were beaten by police.

Footage shared on a livestreaming site showed workers shouting: “Defend our rights! Defend our rights!” Other workers smashed surveillance cameras and windows with sticks. “Foxconn never treats humans as humans,” said one person.

In the videos, workers vented about how they were never sure if they were going to get meals while in quarantine or complained that there were inadequate curbs in place to contain an outbreak. "They changed the contract so that we could not get the subsidy as they had promised. They quarantine us but don't provide food," said one Foxconn worker in his live stream. "If they do not address our needs, we will keep fighting." He also claimed to have seen a man "severely injured and [who] might die" after a beating from the police. 

Another newly recruited employee said, "I didn't know the exact reason why people are protesting but they are mixing us, new workers, with old workers who were [Covid] positive." 

Previous protests

In late October, Foxconn locked down the site, prompting some workers to break out and go home. Many workers fled the plant amid rising Covid cases and allegations of poor treatment of staff, their escape captured on social media as they rode lorries back to their hometowns elsewhere in the central Chinese province.

Foxconn then attempted to convince workers to stay and to recruit new staff by offering higher salaries and bonuses. Before the unrest, the Zhengzhou plant employed some 200,000 people.

The firm has since enacted so-called closed-loop operations at the plant, keeping it isolated from the wider city of Zhengzhou because of a Covid outbreak there. Under closed-loop operations, staff live and work on-site isolated from the wider world. "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.

As of Wednesday afternoon, most of the footage on Kuaishou, a social media platform where these livestreaming videos had emerged, had been taken down. Kuaishou did not respond to a request for comment.

Foxconn and Apple did not respond to requests for comment.

Protests dampen Foxconn shares

Foxconn is Apple's biggest iPhone maker, accounting for 70 per cent 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.

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 per cent in November due to COVID restrictions.

Shares of Foxconn, formally called Hon Hai Precision Industry Co Ltd., have slipped 2 per cent since the unrest emerged in late October.

Earlier in November, Apple said it expected lower shipments of iPhone 14 models because of the disruption to production in Zhengzhou.