China: Protests Erupt at Zhengzhou iPhone Factory

On Wednesday, large-scale protests erupted at Foxconn's iPhone factory in the Chinese city of Zhengzhou. Live-streaming footage circulated widely online, appearing to show hundreds of workers clashing with security personnel, following tensions over COVID restrictions at the plant.

China: Protests Erupt at Zhengzhou iPhone Factory
Image credit: Laurenz Heymann / Unsplash

Facts

  • On Wednesday, large-scale protests erupted at Foxconn's iPhone factory in the Chinese city of Zhengzhou. Live-streaming footage circulated widely online, appearing to show hundreds of workers clashing with security personnel, following tensions over COVID restrictions at the plant.
  • The Zhengzhou plant is the world’s largest iPhone factory, with approximately 200k workers. In mid-October, unconfirmed estimates said around 10% of the workforce had been placed in quarantine on site, driving thousands to flee when the company allegedly failed to address complaints about unsafe working conditions.
  • Protests flared as replacement workers accused Foxconn of changing their contracts, rescinding the higher pay and better benefits promised during recruitment. Foxconn responded that it has always fulfilled allowances based on a contractual obligation. The Zhengzhou factory is under “closed-loop management,” meaning employees live at their workplace isolated from the outside world.
  • In recent months, Foxconn has struggled to contain a COVID outbreak among its workforce while maintaining production ahead of the peak holiday season.
  • According to Chinese state media, Foxconn has recruited as many as 100K people in recent weeks to replace workers that left Zhengzhou. The recent disruptions have increased the demand for manufacturers to diversify their supply chain outside China, where 95% of iPhones are currently produced. Foxconn and other Apple suppliers have already started to shift some production capacity to Vietnam and India.
  • The problems at the plant have led Apple to cut estimates for high-end iPhone 14 shipments and issue a rare warning to investors over production delays. Foxconn said the company has always fulfilled its contracts and would continue to "communicate and explain" that to new staff. It said it would work with employees and the government to prevent further violence.

Sources: BBC News, CNBC, SFchronicle, FT, and Scmp.

Narratives

  • Pro-establishment narrative, as provided by NY Times. China's “zero Covid” policy has slowed factory output and quickly turned Apple's close ties with the country from an asset into a liability. While Apple is taking steps to try and slowly extract itself, this is difficult given just how entangled its business is with Beijing. The Chinese government must loosen COVID restrictions if Apple is to recover any of its supply shortages and meet demand.
  • Establishment-critical narrative, as provided by Truthout. The Chinese government’s insistence on strict COVID lockdowns should not be used as an excuse by companies like Foxconn and Apple to enact forced labor. Closed-loop management practices are exactly that. Foxconn is choosing to prioritize profit over workers’ health and human rights, and Apple refuses to acknowledge the harms committed under its watch. Western consumers have a responsibility to speak out.

Predictions