fox-conning workers?

Reports of violent protests at Foxconn’s iPhone factory show China’s harsh covid policies reaching a tipping point

Videos shared on social media appear to show hundreds of workers violently protesting pay and working conditions

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Workers are mad at the covid mismanagement.
Workers are mad at the covid mismanagement.
Photo: AFP/Stringer (Getty Images)

Hundreds of workers at a major Foxconn plant appear to have erupted into violent protests.

Videos shared on social media platforms Weibo, Kuaishou, Duoyin, and Twitter, purportedly show workers pouring out of their dorms towards the Foxconn campus grounds in the Chinese city of Zhengzhou in the early hours of Wednesday (Nov. 23) morning. Some of them were reportedly wielding batons and using them to smash surveillance cameras and windows. Footage verified by AFP showed smashed up Covid-19 testing booths and overturned vehicles. Riot police dressed in hazmat suits then stepped in and urged workers to return to their dorms.

The unrest comes as the Foxconn plant with more than 200,000 workers, which is the world’s main manufacturing site for Apple’s iPhones, has already been struggling because of China’s zero-covid policy. Workers bogged down by fatigue and resentment were protesting subpar food, denied bonuses, and more.


“Some new hires to the Zhengzhou Park campus appealed to the company regarding the work allowance, which they had doubts about. The company has emphasized that the allowancehas always been fulfilled based on contractual obligation and will continue to communicate with relevant colleagues,” Foxconn said in a statement. “Regarding any violence, the company will continue to communicate with employees and the government to prevent similar incidents from happening again.”

What’s going on at Foxconn Zhengzhou?

Earlier this month, the Zhengzhou factory made headlines for the mass exodus of its workers as it started operating under a “closed-loop” system, where living conditions were terrible, meals were delayed, and medical care lacking.

Since then, it has tried everything to populate its assembly lines, from offering subsidies and daily cash bonuses to convincing veterans to come to work. Less than a week ago, it announced a hiring drive to onboard 100,000 additional workers but pressed pause when it ran out of quarantine space.

These so-called resolutions haven’t really translated from paper to practice, though.


A worker in his 20s, who was moved from Foxconn’s Shenzhen factory to its Zhengzhou facility last week, told Rest of World reporter Viola Zhou that he was locked up in an eight-person quarantine room upon arrival, where most meals were potato and cabbage, deliveries were banned, and trash piled up in the hallway. At the assembly lines, covid patients and non-patients were mixed together. And promises of bonuses to lure them to stay are falling flat.

Workers were originally “promised a 6,000 yuan bonus for working two months…but now management said workers must stay till March,” he said, adding those who catch covid would be stripped of this pay.


“Foxconn clarifies that online speculation of employees who are Covid positive living in the dormitories of the Zhengzhou Park campus is patently untrue. Before new hires move in, the dormitory environment undergoes standard procedures for disinfection, and it is only after the premise passes government check, that new employees are allowed to move in,” Foxconn said.

Snippets of the civil unrest were shared by Open Source Intelligence Monitor, which collects and analyzes publicly available data from various social networks and websites.


Meanwhile, communicating with the outside world is getting more difficult. Workers who tried to go live on Douyin and Kuaishou saw their livestreams cut immediately, the worker told Zhou. The Weibo hashtag “Foxconn Riots” appeared to be censored online by Wednesday, the Guardian reported.


Company of interest: Apple

Taiwan-based Foxconn is Apple’s lifeline—it’s the iPhone company’s main subcontractor. The Zhengzhou plant specifically assembles more iPhones than anywhere else in the world.

Earlier, Apple acknowledged that disruptions due to Covid-19 restrictions in Zhengzhou would result in fewer iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone Pro Max shipments than previously anticipated. Some industry-watchers pegged the fall in iPhone production at 30% after workers fled. The latest protests only add more pressure on production.


“We have Apple team members on the ground at our supplier Foxconn’s Zhengzhou facility. We are reviewing the situation and working closely with Foxconn to ensure their employees’ concerns are addressed,” Apple said in a statement.

Foxconn unrest is one of many against China’s zero-covid policy

As China’s biggest private sector employer with a headcount exceeding one million, protests at Foxconn’s site are telling of conditions across the country.


Indeed, tensions over draconian covid rules have been spilling over in multiple regions. Residents of Guangzhou violated compulsory lockdowns and clashed with the police. In the city’s Haizhu district, home to China’s biggest fabric market, textile workers revolted. In recent weeks, protests have also broken out in Urumqi, Ghulja, and the Tibetan capital Lhasa.

Despite the public frustration mounting, China has been doubling down on the zero-covid policy, rebuffing criticism of it by top World Health Organization officials as “irresponsible.” Any relaxation in the rules has so far ended up being all talk and no action.


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This post has been updated with comments from Foxconn and Apple.