Numerous workers fled the Foxconn factory in the Chinese city of Zhenghou – which is the largest iPhone factory in the world – this weekend. China remains stubbornly committed to a very strict zero-Covid policy and apparently a recent corona outbreak at the Foxconn factory quickly led to extremely poor living conditions for the many workers who work and live there. Images on social media show staff members running away on foot, being caught and falling over the weekend. “A true exodus”, according to witnesses.
BELGA, ANP, The Financial Times, Reuters
The Taiwanese company Foxconn is the world’s largest manufacturer of computer parts and also the main manufacturer of Apple’s iPhones. Foxconn’s factory in the Chinese city of Zhengzhou is the largest supplier of iPhone in the world. iPhone parts are manually assembled in the Chinese factory and then exported.
Strict corona measures
The factory in Zhengzhou, which employs just 200,000 people who also live on the factory site, was hit by a corona outbreak at the beginning of this month. There were still relatively few cases, but the management immediately took strict measures.
Several staff members testified to ‘The Financial Times’ that the situation at the factory was getting worse and more difficult as Covid started to spread. For example, they complain that workers are locked up in their dormitories to be quarantined there, and that others are forced to continue working in harsh conditions. After all, the company tries to fill in the gaps by having other employees work more or longer shifts. In addition, there would have been serious problems with the food supply in the huge complex.
The poor living conditions and the fear of also ending up in quarantine led to many people deciding to flee this weekend. How much is not immediately clear. “A lot”, it sounds.
Footage circulating on social media shows workers climbing fences and walking across fields with suitcases in an attempt to leave the factory site. They have what they could grab and carry on foot. “It was total chaos in the dormitories,” said a 22-year-old employee with the last name Xia. “We then jumped over a plastic fence and another metal fence to get off the site.” The refugees often retreat to where they originally came from: villages and suburbs around Zhengzhou, sometimes hundreds of kilometers away.
One Yuan also testified to ‘Reuters’: “We have been locked up since October 14. We had to do endless PCR tests and wear masks all the time. We were given traditional Chinese medicine. As soon as someone on the production line was positive or possibly positive, they were called away in the middle of their work while the rest continued to work. If those people didn’t show up the next day, it meant they had been taken away.” According to Yuan, at least 20,000 people were quarantined on the spot, but he did not know how many of them were actually infected. Management did not release that information.
“I’m never going back to Foxconn,” an employee named Xu told The Financial Times. He broke up with four friends around 2 a.m. on Sunday. “They don’t know humanity there,” he says. The five friends have to walk a total of more than 200 kilometers before they arrive home. Social media posts show that locals have placed water and food along roads here and there for staff members, with a sign reading “For Foxconn employees returning home”.
“Get well ahead”
Meanwhile, the Zhenghzou city council announced that Foxconn promises to improve the living and working conditions of all workers who want to stay. No one would be stopped if they wanted to leave anyway, it sounds like. However, it is requested in that case to take one of the ‘official buses’ that are now being deployed especially in collaboration with the local authorities to take people directly to quarantine facilities elsewhere. People who have left but would like to return can be picked up by a specially organized return service.
Foxconn has also said that the local government will allow them to reopen the factory canteens. They were previously closed as a corona measure. Everyone had to eat in their own sleeping quarters.
The towns and cities in the region have hastily drawn up plans to deal with the return of the migrant workers. There are fears Foxconn staff will spread the coronavirus throughout the region. According to a ‘BBC’ correspondent in China, some refugees were stopped by the authorities on the way, after which they were already ‘disinfected’ along the road. Truck drivers who had picked up some employees along the way are said to have already been quarantined somewhere with their passengers.
Consequences for Apple
The events show once again the social and economic costs of China’s strict zero-Covid policy. But President Xi Jinping recently made it clear that China would not relax its zero-Covid policy. However, the Chinese population is tired of the repeated restrictions and the Chinese economy is also suffering.
Foxconn’s main publicly traded arm fell the most in three weeks today (-2.4 percent), Bloomberg reported. According to Reuters, among others, the corona outbreak at the Foxconn factory in Zhenzhou could also have significant consequences for Apple. Due to the flight of staff, production in the factory is now shorter. In November, therefore, up to a third less of the smartphones could be made, insiders say to the news agency. Foxconn, meanwhile, is trying to limit production damage by having more iPhones made at a factory in Shenzhen.
Foxconn assembles 70 percent of all iPhones worldwide. Making Apple’s smartphones accounts for just under half of the Taiwanese company’s revenue.
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