The plant that produces iPhones (in addition to a number of other popular tech devices) has been closed after a massive brawl involving an estimated 2,000 employees. It remains unclear what caused the incident or if the closure will have an impact on shipments of the new iPhone 5.
The plant in question is known as Foxconn. Based in China, it’s one of the world’s most controversial manufacturing facilities; last year, plant employees complained to Western reporters that they were working long hours, receiving unfair pay, and had no chance to even see or feel the exciting tech products they were making.
Those complaints led to an investigation by Apple, Foxconn’s highest-profile client. Apple builds the iPhone at Foxconn.
So, what happened? At the moment it appears as though a dispute between factory guards and workers erupted into a massive brawl. Foxconn property, including windows and railings, were reportedly destroyed. That forced management to call in paramilitary police, who showed up in riot gear shortly thereafter.
About forty people were taken to hospital in the wake of the violent melee.
“The plant is closed today for investigation,” said Foxconn spokesperson, Louis Woo.
Later, a Foxconn official had this to say: “The cause of this dispute is under investigation by local authorities and we are working closely with them in this process, but it appears not to have been work-related.”
It may be hard to believe that the incident had nothing to do with company business. After all, this is a facility where the treatment of employees appears to have been so bad in the past that dozens of workers took their lives in a last, desperate attempt to escape the daily toil of producing the world’s slickest tech toys.
In essence, this is a workplace capable of breaking the human spirit. It’s a place where violence of this kind should not be unexpected.
It also means that the widespread coverage of plant operations and worker conditions may not have changed how employees are treated by management.
“Clearly there is deep-seated frustration and anger among the employees and no outlet, apart from violence, for that frustration to be released,” noted Geoff Crothall, a communications expert for the China Labor Bulletin.
“So it is not surprising when such disputes escalate into violence.”