“With regard to the violence, we continue to communicate with workers and the government to prevent a recurrence,” the company said without further comment.
The rare instances of violence at the plant in the central city of Zhengzhou reflect rising tensions since the lockdown began in October. Many of the massive workforce of more than 200,000 in “iPhone City” have plunged into isolation, forced to subsist on Spartan meals and scrounge for medicine.
Many eventually fled the factory on foot last month. Foxconn and the local government seemed to have gotten the situation under control in recent weeks, promising unusually high wages to attract new staff and promising better working conditions.
Wednesday morning’s protests suggest that is no longer the case.
It underscores how Xi Jinping’s COVID Zero policy, which relies on rapid lockdowns to eradicate the disease wherever it appears, is increasingly weighing on the economy and confounding large parts of the global supply chain.
Beijing recently issued new guidelines directing officials to minimize disruption and use more targeted COVID controls, but rising outbreaks in major cities have forced local authorities to once again enforce strict curbs.
“It’s a real mess,” said Barry Naughton, a professor at the University of California at San Diego who specializes in Chinese economics. “They have created a situation where local decision-makers are under unbearable pressure.”
Violence has erupted sporadically across China due to COVID restrictions.
In May, hundreds of workers clashed with security personnel at the Quanta Computer Inc. factory. in Shanghai, after being barred from the outside world for months, while protests have erupted in closed-off areas of Guangdong, the southern manufacturing center.
The Foxconn situation once again reminds us of the dangers for Apple to rely on a massive manufacturing machine focused on China at a time of unpredictable policies and uncertain trade relations.
Zhengzhou is the location of Apple’s most critical manufacturing, producing an estimated four out of five of its latest-generation handsets and the vast majority of its most advanced iPhone 14 Pro units. Apple warned this month that shipments of its latest premium iPhones will be lower than previously expected — just before the peak holiday season.
The protests took place hours after Henan Party chief Lou Yangsheng visited the area where the Foxconn factories were located and held a video chat with selected workers.
He asked managers to help staff and provide a “warm, relaxed and stable” living and working environment, the official said Henan daily. Lou’s visit underlined the unusual amount of effort county officials had recently put into the country’s largest private employer, from reportedly helping recruits to urging retirees to join Foxconn.
Naughton, the professor, said Beijing is putting a lot of pressure on local officials to achieve conflicting goals.
“The tension is that Beijing wants both COVID Zero and full economic growth,” he said. “It’s kind of impossible.”
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