Riots at factory run by Apple supplier Foxconn bring production to a halt

A riot broke out Sunday in one of the mammoth factories in China run by Foxconn, the contract manufacturer to Apple and other major consumer electronics companies. Forty people were hurt and the disturbance shut down the plant on Monday, bringing production at the factory to a halt, according to reports.

Apple might be Foxconn’s most famous customer, though it’s not clear that any iPhone 5 parts — whose production are critical to Apple right now — were produced at the site. One worker was quoted saying some iPhone parts came out of the plant in question, but Foxconn won’t confirm that.

But that doesn’t mean that Apple won’t or can’t be affected by work stoppages resulting from factory violence that’s increasingly popping up in China. The New York Times says this is part of a larger pattern at Chinese factories:

Disturbances at factories have become increasingly common in China, rights groups say, as laborers have begun to demand higher pay and better conditions.

Geoffrey Crothall, spokesman for the China Labor Bulletin, a nonprofit advocacy group in Hong Kong seeking collective bargaining and other protections for workers in mainland China, said workers in China had become increasingly emboldened.

“They’re more willing to stand up for their rights, to stand up to injustice,” he said.

From a business perspective, this hasn’t directly impacted Apple yet, but it’s very likely something Tim Cook is at least aware of. It could pose a serious risk for Apple should these kinds of riots or protests hit a factory that happened to be producing critical parts for an iPhone 5. Or the next iPad.

Apple has taken steps to address the poor working conditions and low pay that characterized some factories in China that produced iPhone and iPad parts. After initiating an outside audit of Foxconn and a few other of its largest manufacturing partners in the country earlier this year, Apple has pledged to help defray the costs of improving the working environment at Foxconn.