In China, riots at the world’s top iPhone factory reveal the limits of zero Covid

Illuminated by the dim light of the street lamps, a compact crowd of workers brandishing iron bars pushes back a small squad of policemen clad in white coveralls. On the many videos of these scenes shared on social networks, shots rained down and shouts resounded: “Police are hitting people”, “pay our wages”, “Down with Foxconn”or “defend your rights”. Since Tuesday November 22 and for at least forty-eight hours, thousands of Foxconn workers, who in particular assemble Apple iPhones, have protested to demand payment of promised bonuses for new hires, while production is halted by the restrictions of the Covid zero policy. Other videos, immediately censored, show workers beaten profusely by men in white, taken away by the police or injured.

After two days of clashes, Foxconn has decided to buy social peace by offering, on Thursday 24 November, 10,000 yuan (1,340 euros), or about two months’ salary, to those who choose to go home. The company also apologized: “We apologize for a typo in the computer system and we guarantee that the actual salary corresponds to what was promised in the job advertisements”, the company said in a statement. The mistake is expected to cost Foxconn and Apple, which depends on the Zhengzhou factory for 80% of its latest iPhone 14s. In early November, the Apple brand had already acknowledged production delays due to the Covid-19 outbreak inside the gigantic campus of Zhengzhou , nicknamed “iPhone City”.

In fact, at the end of October, tens of thousands of Foxconn employees had fled the site where the cases of Covid-19 were multiplying, denouncing the chaotic management of the situation: spartan conditions, lack of food and little reactivity to prevent the spread of the epidemic . A veritable city within a city, with around 200,000 employees, the Foxconn factory had been operating under closed circuit since the first cases recorded in mid-October. The images transmitted by the networks showed the workers climbing over the barriers of the campus before walking the road for tens of kilometers to return home. Since then, Foxconn has launched a major recruiting campaign in the middle of the iPhone manufacturing season as Christmas approaches. The company had raised salaries and promised attractive bonuses of 3,000 yuan (402 euros) per employee.

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