Inside a Chinese iPhone Plant, Foxconn Grapples With Covid Chaos

HONG KONG — Foxconn Technology 2354 -0.76%

The group is struggling to contain a week-long outbreak of Covid-19 at an iPhone factory in central China and is trying to calm scared and frustrated workers during a crucial period for smartphone orders.

At Foxconn’s main factory in Zhengzhou, Apple’s largest assembly site in the world Inc

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Hundreds of thousands of iPhone workers have been placed under a closed-loop system for nearly two weeks. They are largely closed off from the outside world, only able to move between their dormitories or houses and the production lines.

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Many said they were trapped in their dormitories for days and that the distribution of food and other essentials was chaotic. Many others say they are too afraid to continue working because of the risk of infection.

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Foxconn on Wednesday denied online rumors that 20,000 cases had been detected at the site, saying it was providing necessary supplies for a “small number of employees affected by the pandemic”.

“The sudden epidemic has disrupted our normal life,” Foxconn said in a post to its workers on WeChat on Friday.,

social media platform. “Orderly progress in pandemic prevention and outcomes depends on the efforts of all employees,” the report said. She outlined plans to ensure proper food supplies and promote mental wellbeing and pledged to respond to workers’ concerns.

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Foxconn did not respond to a question about workers’ details of the situation at the site. Earlier, when asked about the situation, the company referred to its statement on Wednesday as well as its WeChat post on Friday.

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“It’s too dangerous to go to work,” a 21-year-old worker who was confined to a dormitory told The Wall Street Journal, saying he was skeptical of the company’s claim that the number of infections at the plant was low. .

The shutdown at Foxconn is the latest example of the economic and social toll caused by China’s strict pandemic control policies — which include rapid and widespread lockdowns, mass testing and mandatory quarantines to kill the virus whenever it emerges. While Beijing says the virus is too strong to allow any easing of its zero-Covid policy, businesses must convince their employees that there is little risk of them coming to work if there are signs of an outbreak.

The outbreak in Zhengzhou – 95 cases recorded in the city in the past four days – began in early October when people returned from other parts of the country from a week-long public holiday. At the first signs of a Covid outbreak in the city, officials locked down some districts and began mass testing to contain the virus before it took hold among Zhengzhou’s 12.7 million residents. Foxconn joined the campaign as a major employer.

As more infections surfaced at Foxconn in the middle of the month, the company sought to maintain production by creating a “bubble” around its operations to reduce the risk of exposure, a practice now common among large manufacturers in China to continue their business during the local epidemic.

Foxconn says it employs up to 300,000 workers in Zhengzhou. Analysts estimate the company makes half or more of Apple’s smartphones in the city, which is essential to keep iPhones supplied to consumers, even during the upcoming winter holiday season, when demand for the phones typically peaks.

Foxconn said in a statement on Wednesday that production at the plant is “relatively stable” and that it is sticking to its operating outlook for the current quarter as the impact of the outbreak is controllable. It is to announce its quarterly results on November 10.

Apple did not mention Foxconn’s Zhengzhou plant in its quarterly earnings release on Thursday. Its CFO said supply of the new iPhone 14 Pro models is limited due to strong demand.

Apple did not respond to requests for comment on conditions at the Foxconn plant.

Some workers interviewed by the newspaper said many colleagues had refused to return to the production lines. Others simply left, they said, sometimes leaving their belongings behind.

Another Foxconn employee said most of his dozen-strong team of night shift workers were either taken to a quarantine facility or refused to return to work. Every night, he said, he saw workers clad in protective gear waiting to be taken away by bus.

“I don’t know who is a positive case in my area,” said the worker, who has been confined to his dormitory for several days. “It would be better if I stayed in the dorm.

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

Foxconn created incentives to maintain production, according to a company announcement Friday.

Everyone who comes to work gets a free meal and a daily bonus. Those who show up every weekday from October 26 to November 11 will receive a reward of 1,500 yuan, or about $200.

A 21-year-old employee who spoke to the magazine, who worked on an assembly line making an older version of the iPhone, said he had been trapped in his room since October 17, along with thousands of others.

In the days that followed, food deliveries were delayed and trash was left unattended in the hallways, piling up on the ground floor as other dormitories were locked down, he said.

One worker’s daughter said her mother was placed in the same dormitory as some who tested positive. Some other workers filed similar complaints.

About 10 days ago, nearly 300 Foxconn supplier workers were asked to move out of their dormitories and sleep at the factory, one of them said.

In photos he shared with the newspaper, people slept on sheets and pillows placed on metal bed frames under white fluorescent lights suspended from the hangar-like roof. According to him, hygiene has become a problem. Still, he said he shouldn’t leave the plant — and has nowhere to go if he did.

“Where can I go? Barriers are everywhere,” he said. “There are people at every checkpoint.”

Business and the pandemic

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

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