Recent videos in circulation show heavy protests happening at one iPhone plant owned and operated by Foxconn Technology in Zhengzhou, China. Audio comments from the videos, reportedly filmed at the protest sites, summarized that the unrest was due to the plant’s deplorable COVID-induced working (and living) conditions and fear of spreading infections amidst other contract payment issues.
In a video said to have been taken at the scene of unrest, things quickly got violent as the workers faced off with police officers dressed in white Hazmat suits and riot shields. Both parties quickly got on the receiving end of brutalities, as some persons suffered club hits to the heads, with many being maltreated and arrested.
Some videos showed the protesters taking aggressive measures around the iPhone plant, like dragging barricades across the road, destroying windows and surveillance cameras, and spraying fire extinguishers at the police. Other videos showed workers complaining about food, bonuses, quarantine conditions and more. From the videos, it can be deduced that tension had been brewing in the plant for a while.
Following the recent COVID-19 outbreak about a month ago, the Zhengzhou government promptly shut down the industrial area where the factory is located. Foxconn Technology Group also instituted a ‘closed-loop’ management system at the largest iPhone plant, where workers get to work and live on-site.
If anything, the outburst on Wednesday proves that the COVID prevention measures haven’t successfully kept the iPhone plant safely operational. According to Aiden Chau of the China Labour Bulletin, an advocacy group based in Hong Kong, “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.”
After the virus outbreak, there were differing rumours about the exact count of those who tested positive. Irrespective, panic spread in the iPhone assembly factory and its environs, with several workers quickly leaving their jobs while others forced their escape from the plant.
In a November 3rd report by CNN, a Foxconn spokesperson claimed, “…because now is the peak production season, (there is) a huge demand for workers.” The spokesperson also mentioned efforts by the company to “coordinate back-up production capacity at other sites” as the workers’ departure was causing a strain on deliverables at the world’s largest Apple iPhone plant.
To get employees to stay and entice new hires, Foxconn posted on its official account earlier in the month that it’d quadruple daily bonuses for workers at the plant.
Due to the closed-loop management system, verifying the welfare conditions within the production plant sprawling with about 200,000 workers, was impossible. It was also difficult to determine if the company was fulfilling its new bonus promises. The company, however, through spokespersons, claimed “things are under control now” and operations were “normal.”
The videos, however, resulting from this Wednesday’s protest show ugly scenes of charred gates, workers outnumbering the police, and distraught workers shouting, “Defend our rights! Defend our rights!” “Give us our pay!” etc. In other videos, the workers claim they were made to stay in the same dorms as those who had already tested positive for COVID-19.
Efforts to immediately verify the authenticity of the videos from Foxconn Taiwan headquarters proved futile, with many of the videos subsequently disappearing from the Chinese social media they had been mainly posted, Weibo. The #FoxconnRiots hashtag also seemed to have been censored on Chinese social media.
In a statement recently released, Foxconn disputed the claims in most of the videos, stating that the company had made payments according to the contract. In the statement, Foxconn also said the reports that both positive and negative COVID testers were put in the same dorm are “untrue.”
Furthermore, the company added, “Regarding any violence, the company will continue to communicate with employees and the government to prevent similar incidents from happening again.”
At the advent of the Zhengzhou iPhone plant COVID-19 outbreak earlier in the month, Apple released a statement that iPhone 14 deliveries may be delayed. It remains to see how the situation develops over the next few days or weeks as the world heads into the holidays. The Foxconn Zhengzhou plant assembles about 85% of global iPhone production, indicating that Apple’s output may be jeopardized in the coming weeks.
China continues to enforce its zero-COVID policy across its provinces as it battles outbreaks of the omicron variant, with 19 deaths reported this week.
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