Videos on social media appear to show hundreds of workers clashing with security guards at Apple’s largest iPhone manufacturing plant in China, as discontent over strict COVID-19 measures erupts at the factory.
Workers at Foxconn’s Zhengzhou factory can be seen swarming the factory floor and charging guards while wearing white hazmat suits.
The violent protests began early Wednesday, Beijing time, Bloomberg reported, citing an unnamed witness at the plant who also sent clips of the incident to the outlet. According to the outlet, one of the videos shows guards hitting someone on the ground with sticks.
1/2 Latest from #Foxconn in #iPhone city in #Zhengzhou: Newly recruited workers fiercely fight with security guards as they try to storm out of the factory.— Jennifer Zeng 曾錚 (@jenniferzeng97) November 22, 2022
Reason: Foxconn tried to recruit about 100K new workers after a lot escaped a while ago. New workers were told they would pic.twitter.com/XsVzVT7N7r
The witness told Bloomberg that the riots occurred over non-payment of wages and workers’ fears that they would contract COVID-19. Bloomberg quoted the witness as saying that the authorities deployed riot police to restore order.
Agence France-Presse reported that one broadcast showed clouds of smoke from a police car, as someone shouted that tear gas and smoke bombs had been deployed.
In a statement titled “Regarding social media videos of unrest in Zhengzhou,” Foxconn said it would work to “prevent similar violent incidents” in the future.
“Regarding any violence, the company will continue to communicate with employees and the government to prevent the recurrence of such incidents,” the statement read.
It added that some new employees at the Zhengzhou facility had raised concerns about work allowances, which the company said were “always met”. Foxconn also said online speculation that infected employees were living in dormitories in Zhengzhou was “totally incorrect”.
At the beginning of October, Foxconn’s Zhengzhou factory employed about 200,000 workers, many of whom come from rural villages and towns but live in company-run dormitories.
Tensions at the plant have repeatedly flared up over the past month as the facility has struggled to suppress a COVID outbreak under China’s strict no-COVID policy.
The southern Chinese city of Guangzhou also saw unrest due to coronavirus restrictions, as crowds took to the streets and broke quarantine barriers on November 15. The protests have been centered in the Hezhou region, where many residents are poorer workers worried about food shortages and rising prices. Where they were prevented from working, according to the BBC.
Tensions have been running high at the Zhengzhou factory since October
Foxconn said on Oct. 26 that its Zhengzhou factory was dealing with a COVID outbreak, according to the South China Morning Post. Other areas in Zhengzhou were also battling the outbreak, and were also locked down.
During this period, the factory adopted a “closed-loop system“, according to which workers are transported directly from their dormitories to the factory and brought back. The system allows the plant to continue operating while it tries to eradicate the coronavirus.
On October 31, videos emerged of workers fleeing the factory due to fears of food shortages and discontent with the restrictions. Reuters reports that developments at the Foxconn factory could cut iPhone production by 30% ahead of the holiday season. The Zhengzhou factory makes the majority of Apple’s global iPhone shipments.
Foxconn later denied allegations on social media that several of its workers had died of COVID-19 at the plant, calling the footage of protesting workers “maliciously edited”. The company temporarily raised wages and increased bonuses for workers in an attempt to entice them back.
Provincial authorities have also asked retired soldiers and government workers from neighboring cities to work at the Zhengzhou factory, saying they can receive their current salaries and extra wages from the factory, Reuters reported November 16.