Foxconn Factory Riot Blamed On iPhone 5 Rush

Workers' advocates say Apple's shiny new gadget is being produced in unsafe conditions, sparking tensions between offshore assembly crews and guards.

Paul McDougall, Editor At Large, InformationWeek

September 25, 2012

3 Min Read


Apple iPhone 5 Teardown: Visual Tour

Apple iPhone 5 Teardown: Visual Tour (click image for larger view and for slideshow)

A labor group said Apple's rush to get the iPhone 5 to market is to blame for a melee between workers and security guards at a Chinese factory operated by Foxconn, an offshore outsourcer that builds gadgets on behalf of the U.S. tech giant.

"Whenever there are new products launched by Apple, consumers are thrilled," said Hong Kong-based Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM), in a statement. "At the same time, workers are queuing up for the company bus and lining up to swipe their staff card at Foxconn, but without similar excitement."

Violence between plant workers and guards erupted Monday, forcing Foxconn to shutter the facility. Numerous injuries, but no fatalities, were reported. The company reopened the plant Tuesday, but has not commented on the cause of the brawl, nor has it confirmed whether the iPhone 5 is made at the facility, which is located in Taiyuan, about 320 miles Southwest of Beijing.

Another group, China Labor Watch, said the iPhone 5 is manufactured at Taiyuan, as well as at other Foxconn facilities.

SACOM, meanwhile, said working conditions at Foxconn have not improved, despite a pledge by Apple CEO Tim Cook to work with the contractor to ensure it is meeting fair labor standards. "When the peak season comes, they are tied to the production lines with just 1 day off in 13 working days, or no rest day at all in a month," said SACOM.

[ Don't miss an exclusive live chat with Zach Nelson, the CEO of NetSuite, one of the pioneers of the software-as-a-service (SaaS) movement. Learn more: Next Valley View: NetSuite, CitiGroup, And More. ]

SACOM said it based its report on interviews with current and former Foxconn workers. The group claimed that workers said they were forced to remain at their posts until production targets were met, even if it meant working longer than scheduled, without overtime pay.

It also reported other problems: "Foxconn and Apple have promised to offer two daily ergonomic breaks for workers, but SACOM found that most of the interviewees have not enjoyed the break at all," the group said. It also said workers on the assembly line lacks adequate protection from the noxious chemicals they work with. An Apple representative did not return a call seeking comment.

Apple on Monday said more than 5 million iPhone 5s were sold over the weekend, but analysts were expecting sales of between 8 million and 10 million units.

They blamed the shortfall on the fact that Apple did not deliver enough phones to retailers to meet demand. As of early Tuesday, websites for stores like Best Buy showed that the iPhone 5 was sold out across the country. Unlocked versions, meanwhile, were selling for $1,000 or more on eBay.

The iPhone 5 is available in white and silver, or black and slate. The contract price starts at $199 for the 16-GB model, $299 for 32 GB, and $399 for the 64-GB model. It's officially supported on the AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon Wireless networks.

About the Author(s)

Paul McDougall

Editor At Large, InformationWeek

Paul McDougall is a former editor for InformationWeek.

Never Miss a Beat: Get a snapshot of the issues affecting the IT industry straight to your inbox.

You May Also Like

More Insights