Haunting videos shared on Chinese social media show mountains of belongings piled worryingly high on city streets. Clothing and other household items float from empty apartment buildings, reportedly near an iPhone factory.
The footage was taken in the second week of November following a series of Covid-19 outbreaks at Foxconn’s Zhengzhou factories. The spread of the virus and reports of deteriorating living conditions led to widespread panic among workers. The video shows them allegedly climbing fences to escape the factory.
The factory produces around 70 percent of the world’s iPhones and typically employs around 200,000 people. Pressure was put on the company to satisfy the hunger for consumer electronics this Christmas.
The shutdowns couldn’t have come at a worse time for Foxconn. Apple warned customers that iPhone shipments could be delayed. “We are working closely with our supplier to return to normal production levels while ensuring the health and safety of all workers,” Apple announced Nov. 6.
Foxconn is trying to lure workers into factory jobs
Associate Professor Dr. Jenny Chan of Hong Kong Polytechnic University has been studying Foxconn since 2010. Her interest was sparked by reports that the company had installed safety nets around buildings following a series of employee suicides. dr Chan now campaigns for workers’ rights in the company’s factories.
Speaking to Yahoo News Australia on Friday, she remained concerned about the health and well-being of workers at the Zhengzhou plant. There have been reports of shortages of food and medical supplies since access to on-site canteens and grocery stores was restricted. It’s also unclear how many Foxconn employees have been infected with Covid-19, but claims have been made that large numbers of workers have been quarantined.
dr Chan said dorm managers would face tremendous pressure to vacate vacant rooms. “Workers have fled or fled or refused to work at Foxconn and therefore they have to make new space for those recruited from the villages or agencies,” she said.
Those fleeing the city had to walk due to a lack of public transportation. dr Anita Chan, Honorary Associate Professor at the Australian National University, told Yahoo News Australia many have to walk for hours or even days and carrying their luggage home is not an option due to the distance.
“Some appear to have been thrown out of windows … some were left in the street by workers,” she said.
dr Anita Chan compares the situation to the situation in Shanghai earlier this year, when there was not enough food during the tight lockdown. She adds that most Foxconn workers are not from Zhengzhou and are therefore treated like migrants.
“They live in very crowded dormitories… fitting eight to ten workers to a room is normal. You can imagine there’s a lot of cross-infection,” she said.
The labor shortage has become so dramatic that the People’s Liberation Army has asked retired veterans to travel to Zhengzhou to help with production.
Villagers and graduates were offered bonuses and higher wages to work in the factory. After 15 days at the factory, new workers will be paid 1,600 yuan ($334) and 30 yuan an hour, according to China Daily.
There are reports that the company has since met its hiring target of 100,000 new employees.
Massive expansion of the Foxconn factory
Foxconn and Apple have not responded to inquiries from Yahoo News Australia.
Yahoo News Australia understands that some Foxconn employees are blaming Zhengzhou city officials for the workers quitting their jobs. They argue authorities have failed to update the public on measures to combat the virus, which they believe have assured residents and staff. They added that staff are subjected to a Covid-19 nucleic acid test once a day.
While multiple social media accounts are debunking the buildings housing Foxconn employees, it remains difficult to verify who owns the buildings. dr Jenny Chan is unable to travel to the region from Hong Kong due to Covid-19 travel restrictions and as of 2020 there are no accredited journalists reporting to mainland China Australian news outlets.
In 2015, Foxconn had 12 construction zones, each with a letter between A and M. The site was so large that buses were used to take workers to the factories.
Foxconn has grown significantly since it began operations in 2010, and that includes the construction of new worker housing. “Specifically, we are referring to the economic zone near the airport,” said Dr. Jenny Chan. “Therefore, some (older) buildings were taken over and made available as living space. Some rentals are outside of Foxconn’s direct control…they are (operated) real estate or housing management companies and they actually serve Foxconn in some way.”
dr Jenny Chan said she remains concerned about the ongoing transparency issues at the site.
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