Apple Supplier's China Factory Gets Back to Work after Enormous Brawl

Workers take photos of a car turned over after a brawl by employees at Foxconn (AP)
By JOE McDONALD

BEIJING -- A factory in China owned by the manufacturer of Apple's iPhones resumed production Tuesday after a brawl by workers highlighted tensions that labor groups say were worsened by the pressure of a new iPhone launch.

Foxconn Technology Group and police said the cause of the unrest Sunday night was under investigation, but labor activists said the rollout of the iPhone 5 has led to longer working hours and more pressure on workers. Foxconn and police said as many as 2,000 employees were involved in the brawl and 40 people were reported injured.

The iPhone 5 debuted last week in the United States and eight other countries and Apple has a three- to four-week backlog of online orders. Foxconn has declined to say whether its one-day suspension of production Monday in Taiyuan might affect supplies. It did not respond to a request for comment on the labor groups' claims.

News reports and witnesses said the violence Sunday night in Taiyuan in northern China stemmed from a confrontation between a factory worker and a guard that escalated. One employee reached by telephone said the violence was fueled by workers' anger about mistreatment by Foxconn security guards and managers.

"Foxconn, some supervisors, and security guards never respect us," said the employee, who asked not to be identified by name. "We all have this anger toward them and they [the workers] wanted to destroy things to release this anger."

Production at the Taiyuan factory resumed on Tuesday, Foxconn said in a written statement. It did not respond to a request for information on the status of its investigation or whether policies at the factory might be changed.

Foxconn, owned by Taiwan's Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., is the world's biggest assembler of consumer electronics, with about 1.2 million workers in factories in Taiyuan, the southern city of Shenzhen, in Chengdu in the west and in Zhengzhou in central China. It makes iPhones and iPads for Apple and also assembles products for Microsoft Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co.

Labor activists say the need to ramp up iPhone 5 production has increased pressure on Foxconn employees.

"Because of the launch of the iPhone 5, the workload of workers suddenly surges," said a Hong Kong group, Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour, in a report this month. It said some employees interviewed at the Zhengzhou factory had not had a day off in the previous 30 days.

Foxconn has declined to say which products are made in each factory but another group, China Labor Watch, said the Taiyuan facility, which employs 79,000 people, is making the iPhone 5.

The group, based in New York City, complained that employees suffer "verbal and physical abuse" by guards.

"These workers must be treated with respect," it said in a statement. "And both Apple and Foxconn, with billions of dollars in profits every year, have both a legal and ethical obligation to uphold the rights of these workers."

Labor tensions in China have been aggravated by a slowing economy that is squeezing employers and a communist system that prohibits independent labor unions.

Many factories and other businesses have unions but they must be part of the state-sanctioned All-China Federation of Trade Unions. Workers complain leaders of local branches often are allied with management and fail to stand up for the workforce.

That means grievances over pay or other issues spiral into strikes and protests. In some cases, ACFTU representatives have scuffled with striking workers, trying to force them to return to work.

"They have no other way of voicing their grievances," said Geoffrey Crothall, communications director for China Labour Bulletin, a Hong Kong organization that promotes employee rights in China. "There are no formal channels of communication or ways of resolving grievances through peaceful negotiation."

Foxconn raised minimum pay and promised in March to limit hours after an auditor hired by Apple found Foxconn employees were regularly required to work more than 60 hours a week.

That review followed a rash of suicides at Foxconn facilities - about a dozen since 2010 - and an explosion at the iPad-making plant in Chengdu in May 2011 that killed four employees.

Foxconn's facilities are exceptionally large by the standards of a Chinese electronics industry in which most manufacturers employ hundreds or thousands of workers. Its flagship mainland factory in Shenzhen, near Hong Kong, has 250,000 workers. The Chengdu site has 100,000 and the company has said the Zhengzhou factory might eventually employ 300,000.

Foxconn also has faced criticism in the past over the conduct of its security guards.

In 2010, Foxconn's parent, Hon Hai, pledged its guards would obey the law and refrain from using threats or harassment after a videotape showing several beating workers was circulated on the Internet.

Foxconn employees have complained about what some critics call "military-style management."

"Workers are expected to obey their manager at all times, not to question but simply do what they are told," said Crothall. "That atmosphere is not conducive to a happy or contented workforce. It's a very dehumanizing way of treating workers."

___

AP researcher Flora Ji contributed to this article.


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46 Comments

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mowens6402

You think maybe it might be time for Apple, Dell, HP and the rest to rethink where they manufacture their stuff? Do you really believe it's cheaper to ship overseas to a poorly educated, very limited population, our jobs? Americans work just as hard and I'l bet in the very near future the "China Connection" wil become more expensive then making the product(s) right here.

September 26 2012 at 6:02 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Allamaar

The only thing that really bothers me about this article is that Foxconn is always tagged as an Apple manufacturer. Foxconn builds devices for a lot of brands that are sold in the US and all over the world, including Dell, Asus, and HP. Why does the media always try to blame Apple? This is mearly the price of economic progression.

September 26 2012 at 12:20 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Allamaar

The only thing that really bothers me about this article is that Foxconn is always tagged as an Apple manufacturer. Foxconn builds devices for a lot of brands that are sold in the US and all over the world, including Dell, Asus, and HP. Why does the media always try to blame Apple? This is mearly the price of economic progression.

September 26 2012 at 12:12 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
olan5tops

The people and government of China are communists, not capitalists. I don't think this is an Apple problem at all. China's people belong to their government, not the other way around. The people of the USA better be sure that our government belongs to the people and not as it is in China.

September 25 2012 at 8:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
olan5tops

The people and government of China are communists, not capitalists. I don't think this is an Apple problem at all. China's people belong to their government, not the other way around. The people of the USA better be sure that our government belongs to the people and not as it is in China.

September 25 2012 at 8:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jay

Apple is driven by greed and nothing else. It has billions in the bank yet continues to make stuff in China. No way I buy an Apple for that very reason.

September 25 2012 at 8:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
alfredschrader

survey

September 25 2012 at 7:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Tara Friendly

Try building something in the USA you money grubbing Capitalists. Obviously its a problem dealing with the Unions but run a good non-union shop then leave LOL

September 25 2012 at 6:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
elendil3136

Workers aren't treated with respect here in the US, why should we imagine that they will be given respect in a communist country, where workers are paid poorly, can be terminated for any reason, and worker safety is practically non-existent.

September 25 2012 at 6:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
susie

If its not made in the US I no I won't be buying it and if all you people would stop these business would come back here to the US.

September 25 2012 at 3:29 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply