Employees at Chinese iPhone factory protest

BEIJING (AP) — Employees at Apple’s world’s largest iPhone factory were beaten and detained in protests over contract disputes amid virus checks, according to employees and videos posted on social media Wednesday.

Videos on Chinese social media said to have been filmed at the factory in the central city of Zhengzhou showed thousands of masked people confronting lines of police in white protective suits with plastic riot shields. One person was hit on the head with a club and another was taken away with his arms tied behind his back.

Other videos showed protesters spraying fire extinguishers at police.

The social media posts said they were protesting unspecified contract violations.

The factory’s operator, Foxconn Technology Group, previously said it was using “closed-loop management,” which refers to employees living at their workplace with no outside contact. This followed a walkout last month of thousands of employees over complaints about inadequate anti-virus protection and a lack of help for co-workers who fell ill.

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Apple Inc. previously warned that deliveries of its new iPhone 14 model would be delayed due to disease controls imposed on the Zhengzhou factory. The city government has suspended access to an industrial zone surrounding the factory, which Foxconn said employs 200,000 people.

Foxconn, based in Taipei, Taiwan, did not immediately respond to a request for information on the situation.

New reports earlier said the ruling Communist Party had ordered “ranking cadres” to replace Foxconn employees in Zhengzhou who left. The company did not respond to requests for confirmation and details about that deal.

Last month, hordes of Foxconn workers left the factory en masse to avoid the curbs of COVID. Videos circulating on social media showed workers carrying bags of belongings and leaving on foot, with some volunteers leaving food and water on the streets for the workers.

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China is the only major country in the world still trying to curb virus transmissions through strict lockdown measures and mass testing, and the strategy is being tested by multiple outbreaks fueled by fast-spreading omicron variants.

Protests have increased as the number and severity of outbreaks have increased across China, including in Beijing. Earlier this week, authorities reported several deaths from COVID-19, the first in six months.

The Chinese government said on Tuesday that more than 253,000 cases of the coronavirus had been found in the past three weeks and that the daily average was rising.

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Foxconn and the local government promised high wages and better working conditions to attract new workers to the factory.

In the meantime, COVID restrictions remain in place, and the factory says it would continue with its “closed circuit” system to reduce the risks of COVID-19 transmission.

Foxconn’s Zhengzhou facility can house up to 350,000 factory workers, but it is unclear how many are employed at the factory. It’s also unclear how many of them left or how many were affected by the COVID-19 curbs implemented at the factory before they left.


Zen Soo contributed from Hong Kong. AP news assistant Caroline Chen in Guangzhou, China contributed.

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