Covid outbreak at China’s iPhone plant pushes workers over the edge

Covid outbreak at China’s iPhone plant pushes workers over the edge

(Bloomberg) — Discontent spread across Apple Inc.’s largest iPhone plant in China this week, after measures hastily enacted to quell a Covid-19 outbreak plunged many of its 200,000 workers into isolation, some without the proper meals.

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The surge in cases at Foxconn Technology Group’s main factory in the central city of Zhengzhou caused it to enter a closed-loop system, where employees are not allowed to leave the manufacturing campus and are regularly tested, people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg News. the case.

Food has become a source of concern after Foxconn, the Taiwanese company that makes most of the iPhones sold worldwide, closed cafeterias at the manufacturing site known as “iPhone City.” Only workers on production lines were given boxes of food, and those infected or afraid to leave company-provided dormitories were given more basic food like bread and instant noodles, some of the people said. They asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals. Fights have broken out among employees over food, the people added.

It’s unclear how widely Covid has spread in the closed compound, where up to a dozen workers often share cramped quarters. It’s also unclear whether isolated workers were still deprived of adequate meals as of Friday, amid conflicting accounts from employees about the situation on a sprawling campus. An Apple representative referred inquiries to Foxconn. Calls to the Covid task force for Zhengzhou city and the Airport Economic Zone, where the Foxconn plant is located, went unanswered. And Foxconn representatives declined to comment beyond their earlier statements.

covid zero

The tensions at Foxconn’s Zhengzhou plant underscore the economic and social costs of Xi Jinping’s Covid Zero policy. While Foxconn says production has not been affected by what it described as a “small” outbreak on Wednesday, it also shows the potential risk to global supply chains and products from China’s approach, which calls for lockdowns, trade restrictions and mass test drives when even one covid case arises.

China’s zero-tolerance approach to the pandemic has brought factories to a standstill and disrupted supply chains. Closed circuits allow businesses to remain operational during lockdowns but affect workers, whose movements are severely limited, with some even having to sleep on factory floors. Tesla Inc. used a closed loop to resume production during the unsettling Shanghai lockdown earlier this year.

In May, hundreds of workers clashed with security personnel at the Quanta Computer Inc. factory in Shanghai after being cut off from the outside world for months.

Read more: Apple supplier faces worker revolt at closed China factory

Now the consequences are being felt by the nation’s largest private-sector employer, often hailed as an example of China’s manufacturing prowess.

The discontent comes at a crucial time for Apple, which launched the iPhone 14 during an unprecedented drop in global demand for electronics. While it fared better than other smartphone makers, it has backed off plans to ramp up production of its new iPhones this year after an anticipated surge in demand failed to materialize, Bloomberg reported. Apple reported better-than-expected results on Thursday but warned of a slowdown over the holidays.

Any disruption in Zhengzhou threatens to snag Apple’s finely orchestrated supply chain. Thousands of components from Europe to Asia are shipped to Zhengzhou, manually assembled into devices, and then shipped to the rest of the world.

In recent days, photos and videos have flooded social media sites such as Douyin and Weibo, allegedly taken by Foxconn workers dissatisfied with conditions at the plant. One widely shared clip focused on trash piled up outside dorms, while another showed people vying for food at an apartment complex, where workers had allegedly been sent into quarantine. Others posted requests for help. Messages sent to users sharing these videos on Douyin went unanswered and Bloomberg has not been able to verify the authenticity of these particular clips.

Foxconn said on Wednesday it was assisting a “small number of Covid-affected employees” at its Zhengzhou facility. The firm, also known as Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., provides workers with needs and advice and considers employees its top priority.

Interruption of the lock

The situation at the Foxconn plant reflects a growing lockdown of Zhengzhou itself, one of China’s largest cities with 13 million people.

The capital of Henan province locked down one of its most populous districts, Zhongyuan, from Oct. 16, with the city closing non-essential businesses and schools the next day. Other districts have also issued stay-at-home orders, meaning most of the city is now on lockdown, all because of an outbreak that currently has around 25 cases a day, according to government statistics. In many cases, officials did not officially announce the restrictions, leading to confusion among residents, according to social media posts.

China shows few signs that it is ready to follow countries like Singapore and Australia in moving away from Covid Zero, a strategy that has proven effective in the first year of the pandemic but is being challenged by more contagious virus variants and the fact that the rest of the world now lives with the pathogen.

Read More: This Is How Long Experts See China Holding On To Covid Zero

While discontent with the restrictions and ongoing testing is growing in China, President Xi tightened the policy at the Communist Party congress earlier this month, disappointing investors who had hoped it would signal a shift toward easing. Xi has always presented Covid Zero as China’s way, saying that lives are saved by avoiding the “herd immunity” approach of other countries. However, the disruption has chilled the world’s second-largest economy and is dragging down global growth.

Read more: Apple supplier deals with Covid outbreak in IPhone City

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