Foxconn plans to make iPhones in China sees workers exodus due to covid

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For more than two weeks, Zhuo, who works on Foxconn’s iPhone assembly line in Zhengzhou, was trapped within the vast campus as the company battled a coronavirus outbreak in the midst of its peak production season. .

As the plant issued government instructions to isolate itself from the world in what is known as “closed-loop” management, Zhuo, 19, saw colleagues being taken away to abandoned buildings converted into quarantine centers. The company pressured people to get back to work before it became clear they weren’t contagious.

On Friday, Zhuo decided to escape. He climbed a seven-foot wall, hid under a fence through a hole dug by workers who fled in front of him, and walked nearly 15 miles before passing a passerby.

Few signs that China is trying to escape its “zero covid” trap.

“There were about 200 of us that evening. It was like a prison breakout movie, “Zhuo said over the phone from a quarantine hotel near his home in Henan Province. Zhuo did not provide his full name for security reasons.

Foxconn is struggling to contain an exodus of workers that threatens to damage production at the huge factory that houses 200,000 workers who have helped the global supply of iPhones. The dilemma facing one of the world’s largest electronics manufacturers also shines a new spotlight on the economic and social costs of China’s persistence in pursuing “zero covid”.

China is one of the few countries left in the world to implement a zero-covid policy through lockdown, mass quarantine and testing. In an effort to lessen its impact on an already battered economy, authorities tasked companies with maintaining production through closed-loop management, effectively locking workers inside to run factories.

After six cases were found in Zhengzhou, Henan province, last October. 12 and 11 others the next day, the factory imposed closed-loop measures, preventing its 200,000 employees from going beyond their workstations and dormitories.

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

Videos posted on social media showed people leaving the company on foot, walking along highways and across fields. Zhuo, administrator of a chat group of Foxconn employees, estimates there are up to 60,000 left. In online discussions, people likened the strikes to a famine in 1942-1943 that sent over 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, ”she said, noting that managers were concerned about meeting demand for China’s upcoming” double eleven “online shopping festival on November 11.

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

Inside the factory, the workers paint a different picture. Han Xiuhong, 47, who works in packaging at the Zhengzhou plant, was sent to an unfinished apartment where she shared a room with seven other people, a mix of infected patients and healthy close contacts. Food deliveries depended on how busy the volunteers were and no medicines were given. When she complained online that she was more likely to starve than covid, she was harassed by the building manager and police who pushed her to delete her posts.

“I had to sleep on the floor because there were not 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 home version of TikTok, is been suspended for posting “unverified information”.

Analysts estimate that covid controls at the Foxconn plant in Zhengzhou could have an impact 10 percent of global iPhone production while Reuters, citing an unnamed source, reported that iPhone production could decline by 30% this month. In an interview with Chinese business publication Yicai, a Foxconn manager said about 60% of his department staff were still working and production could be cut in half.

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The company is another example of how China’s covid controls are slowing an economy already battered by rising unemployment and the housing crisis. Following the close of a key party meeting where Chinese leader Xi Jinping secured a third term and reaffirmed a commitment to zero covid, Chinese stocks plummeted as the yuan weakened to a nearly 15-year low. . Economists interviewed by Bloomberg predict that China’s GDP growth will be less than 5% every year until 2024 due to a slow exit from covid measures.

On social media, nationalist internet users asked Foxconn, a Taiwanese company that accounted for nearly 4% of China’s exports in 2021, to “leave” China. Others have turned their anger towards the authorities.

After testing positive for the virus, 26-year-old Zhou Mengyuan was part of a group of 20 workers quarantined in company dormitories where they received meals and medicine until the volunteers were also infected. Deliveries were interrupted and sometimes they were not given food for days.

On Sunday he was told he would have to go back to work. “They don’t let us do the PCR tests, they want us to get back to work. Everyone in the dorm is very emotionally unstable, “he said, speaking on a video from the dorm in which his coworkers could be seen lying on bunk beds as they swiped their phones.

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

Authorities sent a working group to oversee the company’s response as provincial governor Wang Kai visited the factory on Tuesday.

Foxconn said workers are free to leave if they feel unsafe and has set up collection points to take people out by bus as neighboring towns have organized buses to take workers home.

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

Foxconn’s situation may spark some introspection on covid politics. The Zhengzhou Center for Disease Control and Prevention wrote in a statement Sunday: “Covid-19 is not scary. It can be prevented and cured. “In Guangdong, party secretary Huang Kunming called for a” precision “strategy that strikes a balance between economic development and pandemic prevention.

Foxconn released a statement on Monday saying it hopes workers will return once the situation has stabilized. Zhuo, who escaped last week, may return. He found a good life at Foxconn where he had friends and a decent salary for someone who never went to high school.

“If it hadn’t been for the outbreak, I would have stayed,” he said. “When this is all over, I could go back to work for another month. I haven’t made any money this year and I need to save some for the Lunar New Year. “