November 30, 2022


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Foxconn factory that makes iPhones in China sees mass exodus of workers due to coronavirus


For more than two weeks, Zhuo, who works at Foxconn’s iPhone assembly line in Zhengzhou, has been trapped inside a sprawling campus as the company struggles against Corona Virus In the middle of the peak production season.

As the factory instructed the government to isolate itself from the world in what’s known as “closed-loop” management, Zhuo, 19, watched co-workers move to abandoned buildings reused as quarantine centers. The company pressured people to return to work before it became clear that they were not contagious.

On Friday, Zhuo decided to run his own race. He climbed a seven-foot-high wall, enclosed under a fence by a hole dug by workers who fled before him and walked for about 15 miles before being picked up by a passerby.

Little sign that China is trying to escape its “zero-Covid” trap.

“There were about 200 of us that evening. It was like a prison escape movie,” Zhou said by phone from a quarantine hotel near his home in Henan Province. Zhou did not give his full name for security reasons.

Foxconn is struggling to contain the exodus of workers that threatens to damage production at its massive 200,000-worker plant, making up half of the global supply of iPhones. The dilemma facing one of the world’s largest electronics manufacturers also highlights the economic and social costs of China’s insistence on The pursuit of “zero covid”.

China is one of the few remaining countries in the world to implement a policy of not spreading the virus through lockdowns, mass quarantines and testing. In an effort to lessen their impact on the already battered economy, authorities have instructed companies to maintain production through closed-loop management, effectively locking workers indoors to keep factories running.

After six cases were discovered in Zhengzhou, Henan Province, on October 12, and 11 more the next day, the factory imposed closed measures, preventing 200,000 employees from bypassing their work stations and dormitories.

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In interviews with The Washington Post, employees said they were forced back to work before it became clear they were not contagious, sent to quarantine centers with both confirmed cases and close, uninfected contacts, and left without enough medicine or food. After years of government propaganda warning of the dangers of the virus and a lack of information from the company, workers panicked at the possibility of contracting it.

Videos posted on social media showed people leaving the company on foot, walking along highways and across fields. Zhuo, a chat group manager of Foxconn employees, estimates that as many as 60,000 have left. In online discussions, people have compared the strikes to the famine of 1942-1943 that sent more than 1.5 million Henan residents on the road in search of food.

“They don’t care about us. Leaders keep saying, we can’t stop production,” noting that managers are concerned about meeting demand for the upcoming ‘Double Eleven’ online shopping holiday in China, on November 11.

Foxconn did not respond to requests for comment. She said in public statements that allegations of mass infection were rumors and that production had remained “relatively stable”.

Inside the factory, workers paint a different picture. Han Xiuhong, 47, who works on packaging at the Zhengzhou factory, said she was sent to an unfinished apartment where she shared a room with seven others, a mix of infected patients and healthy contacts. Food deliveries were dependent on how busy the volunteers were, and no medication was given. When she complained online that she might die of starvation more than Covid, she was harassed by the building manager and the police, who pressured her to delete her posts.

I had to sleep on the floor because there weren’t enough beds. “The windows were closed to prevent suicides,” she said. Her husband turned to social media for help, but within hours, his posts were deleted. His account on Douyin, the local version of TikTok, has been suspended for posting “unverified information”.

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Analysts estimate that anti-Covid-19 controls at Foxconn’s Zhengzhou plant could affect 10% of global iPhone productionWhile Reuters, citing an unnamed source, reported that iPhone production could drop by 30 percent this month. In an interview with Chinese business newspaper Yicai, a Foxconn manager said about 60 percent of employees in his administration are still employed and production could be cut in half.

Apple did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the situation.

China is waiting until the end of Congress to release data on weak growth

The company is another example of how China’s anti-virus controls are slowing an economy already grappling with high unemployment and a property market crisis. After the conclusion of a major party meeting where Chinese leader Xi Jinping secured a third term and reaffirmed his commitment not to contract the virus, Chinese stocks plunged The yuan fell to its lowest level in nearly 15 years. Economists polled by Bloomberg News expect China’s GDP to grow to be less than 5 percent per year until 2024 as a result of the slow exit from the measures to combat the Corona virus.

On social media, nationalist netizens called on Foxconn, a Taiwanese company officially known as Hon Hai Precision Industry, which accounted for nearly 4 percent of China’s exports in 2021, to “get out” of China. Others turned their anger toward the authorities.

Zhou Mingyuan, 26, said he was among a group of 20 workers suspected of having the infection who were sent to quarantine in the company’s dormitories, where they were given meals and medicine until the volunteers were also infected. He said deliveries were off, and sometimes they weren’t given food for days.

On Sunday, he was told he would have to go back to work. “They won’t let us do PCR tests, they want us to go back to work,” he said, speaking on video from the dorm where his co-workers can be seen lying on bunk beds beating their phones.

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Today I am forced to return to the factory. I feel hopeless. Why doesn’t the government help us? ” Asked.

The authorities sent a team to oversee the company’s response, and Provincial Governor Wang Kai visited the factory on Tuesday.

Foxconn said workers are free to leave if they feel unsafe and have set up transport points to take people outside as nearby cities have arranged buses to take workers home.

To motivate workers to stay, Foxconn has announced cash incentives of up to 15,000 yuan ($2,000) for those who show up for work in November, according to a post on its internal app seen by The Post.

Foxconn’s position may prompt some introspection about Covid policy. “Covid-19 is not scary. It can be prevented and treated,” the Zhengzhou Center for Disease Prevention and Control wrote in a statement on Sunday. In Guangdong, Party Secretary Huang Kunming called for a strategy focusing on “precision” that strikes a balance between economic development and epidemic prevention.

On Monday, Foxconn issued a statement saying it hoped workers would return once the situation has stabilized. Chu, who escaped last week, may return. He found a good life at Foxconn, where he had friends and a decent salary for someone who had never gone to high school.

“If it wasn’t for the outbreak,” he said, “I would have stayed.” “When this is over, I may come back and work for another month. I didn’t make any money this year and I need to save some money for the Lunar New Year.”