Employees leave Foxconn’s Zhengzhou plant in droves amid claims of neglect
Taiwan-invested iPhone maker Foxconn has promised buses for workers who want to leave and free food for those who stay on its Zhengzhou campus, amid a mass exodus of employees following a COVID-19 outbreak at the plant.
Videos uploaded to TikTok showed dozens of people carrying luggage along highways around the Foxconn plant, with cases of instant ramen and bottled water laid out at the roadside by unknown donors.
Another clip showed people with luggage scaling barbed-wire perimeter fences to leave.
Some complained that they had been “left to die” after testing positive and being placed in isolation with no reliable food deliveries.
An employee who answered the phone at the Zhengzhou factory on Monday didn’t deny reports of a food shortage, but said the company had meals “ready for distribution.”
“We have been working [on food deliveries] all along,” the employee said. “The government is also helping out.”
“We do have [lunchboxes] available for distribution whenever [needed],” they said. “We have been providing free food all along.”
In one TikTok video, a woman in a mask cries, saying she has tried calling local emergency services, but they “declined to do anything.”
“Does anyone actually care if we live or die? the woman asks. “I don’t have the energy to climb into the top bunk; I’m just squatting here on the floor.”
Another says: “Nobody answers if you @ them in the group chat. The employee helpline is useless, too. I don’t know what else to do now.”
Warnings by text
A person who answered the phone at the employee helpline said they had tried to warn employees by text which quarantine centers had no medical care or food deliveries.
“We are doing our best to send those responsible out [to the quarantine centers] to see what’s happening on the ground,” the person said. “That’s why we need people to tell us the address they are registered at.”
Asked if online reports that as many as 20,000 Foxconn workers had fled the Zhengzhou plant, the person replied: “I don’t really know about that, because I’m not [in Zhengzhou].”
Screenshots of an apparent social media message from Foxconn Communist Party secretary Su Dongxia on Sunday showed Su acknowledging that the company couldn’t manage the COVID-19 outbreak without help.
“There are more than 200,000 people in Foxconn’s Zhengzhou plant, which makes it less of a company and more of a complex society that is very hard to manage,” the message said.
“Since the outbreak, Foxconn has been trying its best to mobilize resources internally and work hard to deal with it, with little external support,” the message, which was widely reported on Chinese social media, said.
“Just arranging food and drink for hundreds of thousands of people across more than 10 square kilometers is a pretty arduous task, yet we had employees turning volunteer to serve up hot lunches to hundreds of thousands of people,” Su’s message said.
“Do you know quite what that takes?”
But Su appeared to admit that the company’s efforts hadn’t been enough.
“The fact that we couldn’t do this alone has meant we were forced to allow factory employees to go home,” the message said.
“This company doesn’t have the resources to control public opinion, so some of the negative information you see may also be true,” the message said. “But make no mistake: our company’s a lot cleaner than the rest of society.”
China Business News reported that authorities in a number of nearby cities and counties, including Yuzhou and Xuchang, had written to Foxconn employees with household registrations there saying they are prepared to welcome them back to their hometowns.
But anyone wanting to go home should send their details in advance to ensure services and isolation facilities could be delivered appropriately, the report said.
Provision varied, with some requiring recent, negative COVID-19 test results, and other offering isolation facilities at the user’s own expenses.
Beijing-based political commentator Ji Feng blamed the chaos at Foxconn on the current insistence on Communist Party leadership in the private sector.
“When the interests of the party and those of companies are in conflict, party officials will always choose the party,” Ji told RFA. “When the interests of the party conflict with human need, they also choose the party.”
The Global Times newspaper, which has close ties to Communist Party paper the People’s Daily, said employees who choose to remain at the factory will be “guaranteed a normal life and working environment,” with their health and safety fully protected.
“For employees who want to return home, to ensure their safety, the administrative committee of Zhengzhou Airport Economic Zone and the company will organize staff members and vehicles to serve their needs,” the paper cited a company statement as saying.
Foxconn’s Zhengzhou plant is currently in a bubble system, with daily COVID-19 tests, free meals for all employees, a 24-hour-care helpline and volunteer services, the paper quoted the company as saying.
“This outbreak spread fast, but the viral load is low. So far, no serious infections have occurred at the Zhengzhou campus, and the situation is generally under control,” the statement said.
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.