A fire broke out at Foxconn’s main iPhone plant, but there’s no cause for concern

foxconn workers
A dramatic fire broke out late Sunday evening at Apple manufacturing partner Foxconn’s main iPhone assembly plant in Zhengzhou, China. The Wall Street Journal reports that the blaze, which began late Sunday evening and at one point spanned several floors, resulted in no casualties and isn’t expected to impact production. It’s now under investigation by local authorities.

According to a statement posted by the Zhengzhou Airport Economy Zone, the region’s governing body, the fire began in the Foxconn facility’s rooftop air conditioning and ventilation system. Pictures on Chinese social media, since removed, show the fire spanning the length of the factory.

It’s hardly the first Foxconn plant to catch fire. In 2011, a large explosion at the company’s iPad 2 production hub in Chengdu, China resulted in the deaths of three workers. Later that year, a Foxconn factory in eastern China’s Shandong province experienced a major electrical fire caused by abandoned pipe lines.

Foxconn has historically blamed such accidents on highly combustible dust particles in the air, and the company’s deplorable work environment has been found to be partially to blame. An investigation by the Fair Labor Association (FLA) in 2012 found more than 50 regulatory violations at major Foxconn plants in Chengdu, Gunalan, and Longhua, China.

Another contributing factor has been overworked staff. In 2009, a 25-year-old employee committed suicide after losing an iPhone prototype. A year later in 2010, 14 workers died after throwing themselves from the tops of the company’s buildings. (In response, the company installed safety nets around the edges of some of its rooftops.) Mass worker protests in subsequent years have shut down production in the company’s Longhua and Wuhan facilities.

Foxconn has moved to improve conditions in recent years. Following the FLA investigation, the firm doubled wages, reduced hours to 60 per week, and extended unemployment insurance for workers. It also improved practices regarding safety equipment maintenance.

In 2012, Apple chief Tim Cook responded to a New York Times investigation of Foxconn abuses. “We care about every worker in our worldwide supply chain,” he wrote. “Any accident is deeply troubling, and any issue with working conditions is cause for concern. Any suggestion that we don’t care is patently false and offensive to us.”

Foxconn is one of the world’s largest electronics manufacturers and employs more than a million people. It reported a record 22-percent growth in revenue last year, driven in part by the success of Apple’s latest iPhones.

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