Apple Supplier Foxconn Forced To Close Factory After Large-Scale Brawl Involving 2,000 Employees

By Alexandra Burlacu | Sep 24, 2012 10:39 AM EDT

A large-scale brawl involving roughly 2,000 Foxconn Technology Group factory workers has forced the Apple supplier to close one of its plants in China, the company confirmed on Monday, Sept. 24. Foxconn described the incident as a "personal dispute between several employees" that eventually escalated to involve thousands of people.

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The company said that the brawl started on Sunday night at about 23:00 local time (15:00 GMT), in a dormitory near the Taiyuan manufacturing facility in the Shanxi province. Local police were in control of the situation by 3 a.m., arresting "a number" of individuals while some 40 people were taken to the hospital. According to the official Xinhua News Agency, a police statement said that 5,000 officers were dispatched to the scene.

Foxconn employs 79,000 workers at the Taiyuan facility. Production at the plant has halted on Monday following the incident, but the company issued a second statement saying that the factory will resume activity on Tuesday.

Foxconn, a major parts supplier for Apple and other manufacturers, has drawn severe criticism for its labor policies. Back in 2010, a series of suicides at the company's factories set the media on fire over alleged harsh working conditions, including illegal amounts of overtime and unsafe facilities.

The cause of the brawl on Sunday is still unknown, but Foxconn said it did not appear to be work-related. Local authorities are currently conducting an investigation into the incident, added the company.

An employee at the plant told CNN that nearby shops were smashed by rioters, and local police arrested more than 20 individuals in an effort to control the crowds. With the factory now closed, police are patrolling the area in 10-man groups, added the worker, who spoke under condition of anonymity.

A recent report on working conditions at Foxconn documented dozens of major labor-rights violations, including unpaid wages, excessive overtime, and salaries that cannot cover basic living expenses. Prepared by auditors from the Fair Labor Association (FLA), the report back in March surveyed 35,000 employees at Foxconn factories, inquiring about their working and living conditions, including working hours and compensation.

According to the FLA, Foxconn agreed at the time to work with the Association to address many of the recorded violations. As part of the agreement, Foxconn pledged to achieve "full legal compliance" with Chinese work-hour laws by July 1, 2013. The company will need to hire "tens of thousands" of extra workers in order to do that, noted the FLA.

The Association also noted that a June 20 to July 6 audit showed that "immediate health and safety measures" had been made, including changing equipment design to reduce repetitive stress injuries, enforcement of breaks, and testing of emergency equipment such as eyewashes and sprinklers. 

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