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Foxconn rushes to tame fear after worker exodus

Boxed meals prepared by staff in hazmat suits, herbal medicine handouts, mandatory Covid-19 testing, and strictly enforced social distancing – these are just glimpses of daily life inside the world’s largest iPhone factory, according to Chinese state media reports, as the plant rushes to shore up confidence after an exodus of workers raised questions about on-site conditions.

On Chinese social media platforms, earlier video clips of workers complaining about food and hygiene conditions in the factory, run by Foxconn Technology Group in the central Chinese city of Zhengzhou, have been replaced by footage posted by official outlets, showcasing happy workers operating under efficient pandemic control measures.

“For breakfast, we had milk and bread, and if I want more, I can get an extra portion,” Wen Jialong, a Foxconn worker, told Henan Television, praising the three free meals provided by the company each day.

Behind the camera, however, some workers said they remain concerned about the risk of infections in the compound, where neither Foxconn nor local authorities have disclosed the number of Covid-19 cases recorded.

One worker, who requested anonymity, told the Post that some of his colleagues have chosen to sleep on factory floors, next to the assembly lines, rather than return to dormitories, for fear of catching the virus from neighbours who tested positive.

Some even bought tents to sleep in, the worker said.

One worker, who said he left the compound last weekend by climbing over a temporary iron fence, said he fled because two of his roommates were confirmed positive but received no medical treatment.

“I was afraid of being infected. I was afraid that I may die. So I ran,” he said, adding that he walked over 30km on the highway before a truck picked him up.

The anxiety experienced by many of Foxconn’s nearly 300,000 workers, most of them in their 20s and 30s, reflects the Chinese government’s official narrative, which emphasises the coronavirus’ health threats to justify draconian lockdowns.

After an unknown number of Foxconn workers fled the factory last weekend, however, the local health authority reversed course and started telling people that the health impact of contracting the coronavirus is limited.

Still, the Zhengzhou government has gone to extremes to contain the virus, rolling out measures including disinfecting all public places, even though China’s national health authority has deemed such actions unnecessary. The city has also reminded residents to disinfect the surface of parcel deliveries.

On Wednesday, the 400 square metre (4,300 sq ft) Zhengzhou Airport Economy Zone, where Foxconn is located, entered a seven-day de facto lockdown, making it nearly impossible for anyone to enter or leave without prior approval.

One worker, who resigned this week but was unable to leave the compound due to the lockdown, told the Post on the phone that the situation on campus is less rosy than what state media portrays.

“If you don’t show up at work, you are not entitled to food or testing,” the worker said. Meanwhile, garbage in the dorm area remained uncleaned, as leftover food and plastic bags piled up around bins, the worker said.

The worker said resignation is strongly discouraged at the moment because the factory is ramping up iPhone production for the holiday season in Apple’s major markets in the US and Europe.

One of Zhengzhou’s largest exporters, taxpayers and employers, Foxconn – formally known as Hon Hai Precision Industry – has received disease control support from the local government to keep production on track. The company meanwhile has raised its daily cash bonus for workers to 400 yuan (US$55) from 100 yuan the previous week.

Despite Foxconn’s efforts to sustain production, Reuters on Monday cited an unnamed source with knowledge of the matter as saying that iPhone output at the plant could be cut by up to 30 per cent this month.

Kuo Ming-chi, an analyst at TF International Securities who follows Apple’s supply chain, estimated that at least 10 per cent of the global iPhone production capacity is affected, although he expected Foxconn’s output to gradually improve within a few weeks and maintained his previous forecast of iPhone shipments for this quarter.

A report by local newspaper Henan Daily quoted an unidentified person, in charge of the Foxconn unit responsible for assembling the iPhone 14 series, as saying that the plant is in need of workers and the management has called for support from the company’s other facilities.

Health authorities in Henan province on Thursday reported 22 confirmed Covid-19 cases, 21 in its capital Zhengzhou. Among 165 asymptomatic cases found, 136 were from the city. South China Morning Post

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