Riot at Foxconn factory in China blamed on harsh security guards

Sunday's riot targeted Foxconn security guards, according to workers

Foxconn workers are blaming company security guards for Sunday's unrest at a manufacturing facility in China, claiming that the mass riot was the result of an escalating brawl between assembly line workers and security guards.

The riot, which involved 2,000 workers, occurred at a Foxconn factory in the Chinese city of Taiyuan and sent 40 people to the hospital before it was quelled by local police. While Foxconn said the incident arose from a "personal dispute," without elaborating, company workers interviewed on Tuesday said the riot first started as a fight between only a few security guards and workers.

Although it's unclear what exactly sparked the fight, workers said it's well-known that Foxconn security guards are often domineering and aggressive toward assembly-line workers. The unrest also came as workers from Foxconn's other manufacturing facilities in China have been transferred to the Taiyuan facility to learn how to assemble Apple's iPhone 5.

These new transfers are less tolerant of Foxconn's security guards, explained a 20-year-old worker, who only wished to give his surname as Zhou. "I think some of these transfers were more extreme in their approach. The workers native to Taiyuan also probably couldn't take it any more with the guards," he said.

When Sunday's fight broke out, hundreds of workers from nearby dormitories came to watch as the crowd eventually erupted into a riot targeting company security guards. This led to destruction of cars and store windows on the Foxconn campus. "They were mainly after the security guards, but when they couldn't find them, the workers went off and smashed other things," Zhou said.

Foxconn's Taiyuan facility, which employs 79,000 people, closed on Monday as a result of the riot. But on Tuesday it reopened, and police cars and vans could be seen stationed on street corners in the area.

The Taiwanese company, which also counts Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo among its customers, has faced ongoing criticism for poor working conditions at its factories, with labor groups pointing to Sunday's riot as a symptom of employee mistreatment.

Workers interviewed on Tuesday offered mixed views of their own jobs. Some pointed to the wages as too low, with workers making around 2500 yuan (US$395) or more a month depending on the amount of overtime recorded. But others noted that Foxconn jobs were easy to obtain, with education requirements low for the positions offered.

"People come here because they can't find other work, and the pay here is not bad," said a 21-year-old Foxconn worker, surname Luo, who came to the factory after finishing college with nothing else to do. Luo now helps install microphones in iPhones.

Workers interviewed, however, seemed to be unanimous in their negative opinions of Foxconn's security guards. They allege the security guards will sometimes bully or berate employees for not following proper procedures. This can include smoking in non-smoking areas, forgetting to bring an ID card to pass the security checkpoint, or bringing friends onto the employee-only campus.

Foxconn did not respond to a request for comment on the alleged mistreatment of workers by security guards.

Despite the damage from Sunday's unrest, workers said there appeared to be no consequences for employees. A 23-year-old worker, who declined to give his name, noted that the security guards at the facility have been treating workers with more respect now.

"The attitudes of the security guards have improved," he said. "It's not quite as harsh."

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