Chinese workers are seen outside the Foxconn factory in Shenzhen, in the southern province of Guangdong, in this file photo. — © AFP
Violent protests erupted around Foxconn’s large iPhone factory in central China, as workers clashed with security personnel over Covid restrictions at the plant.
In videos shared on Weibo and Twitter that AFP has verified, hundreds of workers can be seen marching down a highway in daylight, some confronted by riot police and people in hazmat suits.
A late-night video shows a man with a bloody face as someone off camera says: “They are beating people, beating people. Do they have a conscience?
AFP verified that video in part through geolocation that showed distinctive features, including a building and barricades near staff living quarters on the factory grounds.
Another video showed vandalized covid-19 test booths and an overturned vehicle.
In a daytime video, several fire trucks surrounded by police in special suits were parked near residential blocks as a voice was heard on a loudspeaker saying: “All workers please return to your accommodation, do not associate with a small minority of illegal elements”.
China’s relentless zero-COVID policy has caused fatigue and resentment among broad sections of the population, some of whom have been locked up for weeks in factories and universities, or unable to travel freely.
The Weibo hashtag “Foxconn riots” appeared to have been censored on Wednesday at noon, but some text posts referencing large-scale protests at the factory remained active.
Neither Foxconn nor Apple responded to AFP’s requests for comment on the latest riots.
– Hotbed of riots –
Foxconn, also known by its official name Hon Hai Precision Industry, is the world’s largest contract electronics manufacturer, assembling devices for many international brands.
The Taiwanese tech giant, Apple’s main subcontractor, recently saw a spike in Covid-19 cases at its Zhengzhou site, prompting the company to shut down the vast complex in a bid to keep the virus in check.
Since then, the massive facility of some 200,000 workers, dubbed “iPhone City,” has been operating in a “closed-loop” bubble.
Images emerged this month of panicked workers fleeing the site en masse on foot following reports of poor conditions at the facility.
Multiple employees later told AFP scenes of chaos and disorganization in the complex of workshops and dormitories.
In lieu of fleeing workers, the company has offered large bonuses and other incentives for employees who stayed behind while the local government brought in new workers in an attempt to keep the factory afloat.
Apple admitted this month that the lockdown had “temporarily affected” production ahead of the holiday season at the Zhengzhou factory, the crown jewel of the Taiwanese company that produces iPhones in quantities not seen anywhere else.
Foxconn is China’s largest private sector employer, with more than a million people working across the country in some 30 factories and research institutes.
China is the last major economy committed to a strategy of extinguishing Covid outbreaks as they emerge, imposing lockdowns, mass testing and lengthy quarantines despite widespread disruption to businesses and international supply chains.
The policy has sparked sporadic protests across China, with residents taking to the streets in several major Chinese cities to express their anger against business closures and sudden lockdowns.