Workers flee China’s Covid restrictions at Foxconn’s massive iPhone factory

Workers staged an exodus this weekend from the world’s largest iPhone factory, amid a coronavirus outbreak at the Foxconn factory in central China.

The sprawling complex in the city of Zhengzhou, which workers say produces Apple’s iPhone 14, is the latest manufacturing center to be hobbled by President Xi Jinping’s strict zero Covid policies.

Five workers who spoke to the Financial Times said the situation at the factory had gradually deteriorated as Covid continued to spread, with food and medical supplies are running out and workers locked in dormitories for quarantine, which forced hundreds of employees to flee on foot over the weekend.

“It was total chaos in the dorms,” said a 22-year-old worker surnamed Xia. “We jumped a plastic fence and a metal fence to get off campus,” he said.

Tens of thousands of workers usually assemble iPhones at the factory, run by Foxconn contract manufacturer, before shipping Apple smartphones to consumers around the world. The factory shipped $32 billion worth of electronics overseas and was China’s third-largest exporter in 2019, according to a think tank linked to the country’s Commerce Ministry.

Located in Henan, the most populous province in China, the foxcon The factory has long attracted young workers from villages across the region, with local officials helping to find and recruit workers.

But on Sunday, local authorities scrambled to organize buses to bring those workers home and into central quarantine, after scenes of workers walking down the highway with bags flooded Chinese social media. The FT has seen hundreds of workers sign up to demand a ride home in social media groups.

“I will never go back to Foxconn,” said a worker named Xu, who escaped from the factory at 2 a.m. Sunday. “They don’t have any humanity there.” He and four friends were on the highway, walking more than 200 km to their home in Xin’an County, Henan, he said.

Zhengzhou authorities partially sealed off the city 10 minutes after dozens of Covid cases were discovered. Unlike the rest of the world, China continues to use lockdowns, strict quarantines and mass testing in an attempt to eradicate the coronavirus.

Zhengzhou city officials said Sunday night they would begin “point-to-point return of employees to their hometown” in a social media post. “Foxconn will do everything possible to ensure the smooth and safe return home of all Foxconn employees,” the message read.

The city also released a message from Foxconn, promising they would “improve the living and working conditions” of any employees wishing to stay.

Workers said the area surrounding the Foxconn plant had been closed for days, with public transport closed and many roads blocked. They said Foxconn strictly controlled movement and used daily Covid testing and quarantines of Covid-positive workers to try to contain the outbreak while continuing iPhone production.

“My colleague was taken to quarantine. My older sister is locked in her dorm,” said Cao Zhiqiang, an assembly line worker at the factory. “My house is too far to run, so I’m stuck here.”

Cao said that until the weekend, his production line continued to produce iPhones and he expected to go to work in the morning.

Foxconn did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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