Thousands go on rampage during mass brawl at iPhone factory

  • @cliffordcoonan

A company responsible for making components for Apple's new iPhone 5 was forced to shut one of its plants in China yesterday after thousands of its employees began brawling.

Fighting at the Foxconn Technology Group plant in the northern city of Taiyuan, one of a network of gargantuan factories the Taiwanese company owns around China, reportedly escalated into a violent free-for-all involving around 2,000 workers from different provinces of China. A statement from Hon Hai, known by its trade name Foxconn, said the incident began "as a personal dispute between several employees" in a privately managed dormitory for workers.

Other reports said the row was believed to have been sparked by workers from Shandong province clashing with their counterparts from Henan province. Regional rivalries are often strained in China, but tensions can be heightened by living in the cramped dormitories.

However, comments on online forums alleged that security guards at the plant had beaten workers, causing the dispute to escalate.

China's Xinhua news agency said fighting broke out at around 11pm on Sunday night "attracting more than 10,000 spectators and triggering chaos". Footage posted online purportedly showed broken factory windows, crowds of workers and a police car overturned. Among the 40 injured, three were in a serious condition, a senior official with the government of Taiyuan City told Xinhua.

"Around 5,000 policemen were sent to the scene, bringing it under control at 9am on Monday," Xinhua said, citing local public security bureau officials.

It is in plants such as the Taiyuan facility that Apple's new iPhone is assembled, as well as Sony PlayStations and Hewlett-Packard PCs.

Foxconn employs 1.3 million people around the world, and around one million of those work in China. Two years ago, the company was criticised over working conditions after a string of 13 suicides by employees at the company's plants in southern China.