Inside a Chinese iPhone Plant, Foxconn Grapples With Covid Chaos

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The group has been trying to contain the Covid-19 epidemic for weeks at the iPhone factory in central China, trying to satisfy scared and frustrated workers during a critical period for phone orders.

At Foxconn’s headquarters in Zhengzhou, it’s the largest factory in the world for Apple Inc.’s

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iPhones, hundreds of thousands of workers have been put under a shutdown for almost two weeks. Many were closed from the outside world, allowing only movement between their dormitories or buildings and production lines.

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Many said they have been confined to their homes for days and the distribution of food and other essentials has been disrupted. Many others said they were too afraid to continue working because of the risk of infection.

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Foxconn on Wednesday denied what it said were online reports of 20,000 cases found on the site and said for “a small number of workers who were affected by the disease,” it was placed appropriate supplies.

“An accident has disrupted our normal life,” Foxconn said Friday in a message to its employees on WeChat.,

a social media. “Successful progress in disease prevention and action depends on the efforts of all staff,” he said. It outlines plans to ensure good food supplies and mental well-being and promises to respond to workers’ concerns.

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Asked about the staff’s comments on the situation on the site, Foxconn did not respond. At first when asked about the situation, the company mentioned its Wednesday statement as well as its Friday post on WeChat.

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“It’s too dangerous to go to work,” a 21-year-old employee who was confined to his bedroom told the Wall Street Journal, adding that he was skeptical about the company’s low-profile claims. the level of disease in the house. .

The tragedy at Foxconn is the latest example of the economic and social costs of China’s anti-virus policies — including rapid lockdowns, mass testing and enforced quarantines to kill the virus whenever it appears. eat Although Beijing says the virus is too strong to allow any relaxation of its zero-Covid policy, businesses must convince their employees that there is little risk of coming to work if there are any sign of a disease.

Zhengzhou’s outbreak – 95 cases were recorded in the city in the last four days – began in early October, when people from other parts of the country returned from a week-long holiday. country. At the first signs of Covid in the city, officials locked down several districts and began mass testing rounds to eradicate the virus before it found a foothold in Zhengzhou’s 12.7 million residents. As a large employer, Foxconn joined the competition.

When several infections emerged at Foxconn in the middle of the month, the company tried to stabilize production by making a “dust” in its operations to reduce the risk of exposure, a process It is common for many manufacturers in China to continue their business during a local epidemic.

Foxconn says it employs 300,000 workers in Zhengzhou. Analysts estimate that the company manufactures half or more of Apple’s mobile phones in the city, which is crucial for delivery. of iPhones to consumers, including the upcoming winter holiday season when demand for the phones increases.

Foxconn, in its statement on Wednesday, said that production at the site is “sustainable” and that it remains in its operating outlook for the current quarter because the impact from the virus can then restrained. It is scheduled to report quarterly results on November 10.

Apple, in its quarterly financial announcement on Thursday, did not mention Foxconn’s Zhengzhou factory. The chief financial officer said that the supply is limited for the new models of the iPhone 14 Pro due to the strong demand.

Apple did not respond to requests for information about conditions at the Foxconn plant.

Some of the workers interviewed by the Journal said that many of their colleagues refused to return to the production lines. Others simply left, they said, sometimes abandoning their belongings.

On Sunday, a state-run newspaper in Henan published official announcements from various parts of the province welcoming their people back, and practicing protective measures.

Over the weekend, videos posted near the Foxconn site went viral on Chinese social media, capturing parts of people walking on highways or inside farm carrying suitcases and backpacks. Other photos showed makeshift shelters set up by local residents offering bottles of water in front of hand-drawn signs in support of Foxconn workers who are leaving the facility.

Earlier on Friday, the company posted a video on WeChat urging people to return to work. “The company needs people,” said a woman’s voice over footage of workers stepping off the bus. “If no one comes to work, how can the company run?”

Another Foxconn employee said many of his dozen-strong team of night shift workers were taken to a quarantine facility or refused to return to work. Every night, he said, he sees workers covered in protective gear waiting to be taken to the bus.

“I don’t know who around me has a good situation,” said the employee, who was confined to his bedroom for several days. “I’d rather stay in the bedroom.”

With many items stuck in their facilities, sent to quarantine areas or simply absent from work, the pace of production on some assembly lines has slowed, said two of the staff.

Foxconn has taken measures to stabilize production, according to the company’s announcement on Friday.

Anyone who shows up for work gets free food and a daily bonus, it said. Those who turn in every weekday from October 26 to November 11 will receive a reward of 1,500 yuan, or about $200.

The 21-year-old worker who spoke to the Journal and worked on an assembly line making an old version of the iPhone, said he had been detained at his place since October 17, once and thousands of others.

In the days that followed, food deliveries were delayed and garbage was left unattended in the streets, piled up on the ground floor because most of the bedrooms were locked, he said.

A daughter of one worker said that her mother was placed in the same house as others who were found in the good. Other employees made similar complaints.

About 10 days ago, nearly 300 workers from Foxconn suppliers were asked to leave their apartments and sleep in the factory, said one of them.

In the photos he shared with the Journal, people slept on beds and pillows placed on metal bed frames, under white fluorescent lights hanging from the hangar-like ceiling. Sanitation has become a problem, he said. But, he said he shouldn’t leave the tree—and there’s nowhere to go if he does.

“Where can I go?” Barriers everywhere,” he said. “There are people watching all the checkpoints.”

Business and Disease

Write to Wenxin Fan at [email protected] and Selina Cheng at [email protected]

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