A riot broke out late Sunday night at a Foxconn plant in the northern Chinese city of Taiyuan. The impromptu protest involved more than 2,000 workers and 5,000 police, according to official Chinese government reports. The clash is said to have lasted about four hours, and around 40 people were injured. Three people were in serious condition.
A report from Chinese website TechWeb said that “at least” 10 people had died as a result of the massive brawl. However, a statement from Foxconn obtained by The Next Web said that “no employee deaths related to the incident” had occurred.
The Foxconn plant, which according to an undercover report produces back covers for Apple’s iPhone 5, among many other components for major electronics companies, has been temporarily shut down while authorities investigate the cause of the upheaval. Foxconn has refused to officially confirm that Apple components are made at the Taiyuan factory.
Reports from Xinhua, China’s state-run news agency, said that the clash began after a fight broke out in a factory dormitory between two workers from different Chinese provinces.
“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,” said Foxconn in a statement.
The exact cause and other details of the protest are difficult to know, as China retains notoriously tight control of its media and social networks. As Engadget reports, information about the riot posted to Chinese social network Sina Weibo has already been deleted, presumably at the hand of the Chinese government.
Video and photos posted to Sina showed broken windows and other destruction. One highly cited video, posted to Chinese video sharing site YouKu, has been removed.
Foxconn employs about 1 million people in China. The Taiyuan alone has 79,000 workers, according to Foxconn.
Foxconn has repeatedly made headlines for poor working conditions and brutal treatment of its employees. In 2010, at least 13 people committed suicide at Foxconn plants. The company later installed “suicide nets” in employee dormitories in an attempt to prevent further deaths.
“Foxconn is known to have a very authoritarian management style and discipline is very strict,” said Geoffrey Crothall, a spokesman for the Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin, in a statement to AFP. “When you have a working environment like Foxconn where workers are treated simply as units of production, essentially robots, not human beings… then sometimes violence is the only way out [and] you see minor disputes escalating into violence.”
Similar incidents of worker outrage broke out in January and June of this year at other Foxconn plants.
Watch a video of the Taiyuan incident below: