Hundreds are protesting and thousands are fleeing China’s huge Foxconn factory over Covid restrictions, affecting iPhone production

Foxconn’s flagship iPhone plant in China is expected to further reduce its November shipments amid the latest labor unrest this week, a source with direct knowledge of the matter said yesterday as thousands of workers walked out.

The company could now see that more of the site’s November production was affected, up from an internal estimate of up to 30 percent when the factory’s worker problems began in late October, the source said.

The site, which is the only factory where Foxconn makes premium iPhone models, including the iPhone 14 Pro, is unlikely to resume full production by the end of this month, the source added.

The world’s largest Apple iPhone factory has been grappling with tough Covid-19 restrictions that have fueled worker discontent and halted production ahead of the Christmas and Lunar New Year holidays in January as many workers either went into isolation or fled the plant.

It has fueled concerns about Apple’s ability to ship products for the busy holiday season.

Clashes erupted between workers, most of whom were newly hired in recent weeks, and security guards at the Zhengzhou plant in central China on Wednesday.

Many claimed they had been misled about compensation payments at the factory and others complained about sharing dormitories with colleagues who had tested positive for Covid.

Foxconn apologized for a payment-related “technical error” in hiring on Thursday and later offered 10,000 yuan ($1,500) for protesting new recruits who agreed to quit and leave.

The source said more than 20,000 workers, mostly new hires who weren’t yet working on production lines, took the money and left.

Videos posted to Chinese social media yesterday showed crowds and long lines of workers laden with luggage queuing in front of buses.

“It’s time to go home,” one person posted.

Foxconn, officially known as Hon Hai Precision Industry, declined to comment. Apple, which said Thursday it had employees at the factory, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The plant employed more than 200,000 people before its woes began. It has dormitories, restaurants, basketball courts and a soccer field on its sprawling 1.4 million square foot facility.

Another Foxconn source familiar with the matter said some new hires had left campus, but didn’t elaborate on how many. This person said that their departure would not cause any further damage to ongoing production as the employees leaving the company had not yet been trained or started work.

The incident has had a major impact on our public image but little on our capacity

“The incident has had a major impact on our public image but little on our (current) capacity. Our current capacity is unaffected,” the source said.

“There’s not much companies can do about pandemic prevention… It’s been a problem for a while. This is a problem everyone is facing,” the person said, pointing to other workers unrest sparked by tough Covid restrictions, including the upheaval at another Apple supplier, Quanta, in May.

Earlier in the week, hundreds of workers had joined protests at the plant, with some men smashing security cameras and windows, footage uploaded to social media showed.

The rare scenes of open dissent in China mark an escalation in unrest at the huge factory in the city of Zhengzhou, which has become symbolic of a dangerous accumulation of frustration at the country’s ultra-tough Covid rules, as well as the clumsy handling of the situation by the USA has become the world’s largest contract manufacturer.

The employees live and work on site in closed-loop operation, isolated from the outside world.


Clashes between security guards in riot gear and workers at the Foxconn-operated facility. Photo: AP

“It is now apparent that shutting down production at Foxconn is only helping prevent spread to the city but is doing nothing (if not making it worse) for workers at the factory,” Aiden Chau of China Labor Bulletin, Hong Kong-based advocacy group said in an email.

As of Wednesday afternoon, most of the footage had been removed on Kuaishou, a social media platform where Reuters reviewed many of the videos.

Kuaishou did not respond to a request for comment.

The protest images come at a time when investors are worried about escalating global supply chain problems, in part due to China’s zero-Covid policy, which aims to stamp out any outbreak.

Foxconn is Apple’s largest iPhone maker, accounting for 70 percent of iPhone shipments worldwide. It makes most of the phones at its Zhengzhou plant, but also has other smaller manufacturing facilities in India and southern China. Hundreds are protesting and thousands are fleeing China’s huge Foxconn factory over Covid restrictions, affecting iPhone production

Fry Electronics Team

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