Apple supplier Foxconn said an “incident” involving 2,000 workers erupted late Sunday night near a company manufacturing facility in China, as photos posted online showed cars turned over and store windows broken in what appeared to be a mass riot.
Foxconn, which is under scrutiny over worker conditions at its factories in the country, said the incident did not appear to be work-related.
The Taiwanese company said in a statement on Monday that the incident first started as a “personal dispute”, and then escalated outside employee dorms near Foxconn factories in the Chinese city of Taiyuan. Local police arrived and brought the dispute under control by Monday morning at 3 a.m.
“According to police, some 40 individuals were taken to the hospital for medical attention and a number of individuals were arrested,” Foxconn said. The company added the cause of the dispute is still under investigation, but said it appeared not to be “work-related”, without offering specifics.
Posts from users on Chinese microblogs called the incident a riot, with video and pictures showing what appeared to be hundreds of Foxconn employees assembling in the night. Pictures posted online also showed the aftermath, with groups of police patrolling the area and cars flipped over.
Foxconn’s manufacturing facility in Taiyuan employs 79,000 people, and builds components for cars and consumer electronics. Foxconn closed the factories on Monday, said company spokesman Simon Hsing, but the company could reopen the facilities on Tuesday, depending on progress made in the police investigation.
While Foxconn said the incident erupted from a personal dispute with workers, labor protection experts noted the Chinese Internet reports that said several Foxconn workers had been beaten by security officers on Sunday night, which later prompted the riot.
Kalen Hua, a coordinator with the China Labor Research Center, said violent incidents with Foxconn security guards and employees have also occurred at other company factories in Shenzhen, Tianjin, Zhengzhou and Wuhan.
Foxconn has seen increasing scrutiny over the company’s working conditions in China, where it employs 1 million people. Earlier this year, workers reportedly staged a protest by threatening to jump off the roof of a building if Foxconn did not meet their compensation demands. Foxconn said the dispute was peacefully resolved.
Labor experts, however, have said Foxconn is not entirely transparent about the worker disputes that occur at the company’s factories in China.
Debby Chan, a project officer with Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM), pointed to a worker riot at Foxconn facilities in January 2011 in Chengdu, China, that the company said was a personal dispute between two groups of employees. A SACOM investigation, however, found that the unrest occurred because of unpaid wages to the workers.
“All in all, the transparency at Foxconn is low. And the company is notorious in covering up scandal,” Chan said in an email. “I will not fully trust the explanation from Foxconn.”
Updated at 10:40 a.m. PT with comments from labor experts.