Protests against COVID-19 restrictions by workers at Foxconn’s iPhone factory in central China were met with violence by security personnel, videos circulating on Chinese social media showed.
Workers at Foxconn’s Zhengzhou factory staged protests on the factory campus, where they have had to stay since a closed-loop system was announced to counter the spread of COVID-19 without compromising productivity.
Videos of the violence in Zhengzhou showed masked people confronting police in protective gear. Some of the protesters are seen in the videos smashing through campus surveillance cameras and windows.
“Authorities failed to stop the news from spreading beyond Zhengzhou,” said Patrick Poon, a visiting scholar at Meiji University’s Institute of Comparative Law in Japan. “It is rare to see such strong actions from workers in recent years. I am pretty sure the authorities would use more force to try to contain the situation. will worsen as authorities attempt to censor relevant news about the protest in Zhengzhou.”
The violence comes as China tightens its COVID-19 measures again, making it the only major economy still subscribed to full shutdowns to deal with virus outbreaks. China’s coronavirus measures have sparked national dissent this year.
Local authorities continue to stick to the “zero-Covid strategy” championed by Beijing’s central government, Poon said, a relaxation of restrictive measures imposed on large factories like the Foxconn plant in Zhengzhou is unlikely. “It is worrying to imagine how local authorities will implement the strict policies and measures handed down from the central government,” he said.
Why did Foxconn employees protest?
Social media posts suggested the protests were over unspecified breaches of contract. Chants heard on some of the unverified videos depicting the protests included “give us back our wages”.
In other videos, live-streaming workers warned that police were about to break into the factory as workers tried to block them by throwing rocks at them. Some workers said they were told that the bonus they were originally promised would be delayed and that the situation in the dormitory, where workers who had been there for weeks were mixed with newly hired workers, increases the risk that they will be exposed. to the coronavirus.
A recent spike in coronavirus infections at Foxconn’s Zhengzhou site has caused a wave of panic among workers, many of whom fled the site on foot last month. On leaving, employees complained of insufficient protection against the virus and a lack of support for those who caught it.
Since then, the factory has imposed what it calls a closed-loop system, creating a bubble that requires workers to live on site to prevent infection. The company also tried to entice the remaining workers with large bonuses and other incentives.
Aidan Chau, a researcher at the China Labor Bulletin, told DW that the main problem is that closed-loop production is inefficient if implemented in a large industrial complex like Foxconn. “The effect is to control the spread of the virus rather than to protect the factory workers,” he said.
Videos of Wednesday’s protests showed workers saying bonuses they had been promised had been delayed.
Yaqiu Wang, senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said the Chinese government’s control of information also contributed to the exodus of Foxconn workers from the factory.
“Since the purpose of the factory is to make money, the management doesn’t care about the workers’ access to medical care or access to food. On the one hand, they want to make money and on the other, they have to abide by the government’s pandemic measures. This makes workers the ultimate victim,” she told DW.
The factory confirmed the “violence” in a statement Wednesday, but denied housing any newly hired, COVID-positive staff. He said workers had complained about factory conditions and wages.
In a statement, Foxconn said that the subsidies have always been paid according to the contents of the contract, that the employees do not live in mixed housing and that the company continues to communicate well with the employees and the local government, and underlined that production at the Zhengzhou factory is normal.
International companies must respect human rights
Human rights organizations say international companies like Apple must respect human rights in their operations, regardless of China’s willingness to respect and protect those rights.
“This incident should be a wake-up call to Apple that they need to do additional human rights due diligence to ensure they address any human rights violations. that could take place,” said William Nee, Research and Advocacy Coordinator. to the China Human Rights Defender (CHRD).
Nee said the series of incidents show that Chinese leader “Xi Jinping is adopting policies that he believes will benefit China and its marginalized groups, but in fact these policies have the greatest impact on these groups. “.
Has the situation impacted iPhone production?
Based in Taipei, Taiwan, Foxconn is considered Apple’s largest iPhone supplier. Some 70% of Apple’s iPhones are shipped by the Chinese factory, the majority of which come from its Zhengzhou site.
After the latest outbreak of COVID-19, Apple this month acknowledged that production had been “temporarily affected”. He warned of a delay in shipments of new iPhone 14s due to Zhengzhou’s anti-Covid measures.
William Yang contributed to this report.
rmt/sms (AFP, AP, Reuters)