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Foxconn makes its own masks in rush to restart China factory

Workers told to sign consent forms before returning to mainland

People wearing face masks walk past the logo of Hon Hai, also known as Foxconn, in New Taipei City, Taiwan.   © EPA/Jiji

TAIPEI -- Apple supplier Foxconn has built its own production line for surgical masks and asked Taiwanese employees to sign consent forms for returning to mainland China, in an aggressive push to restart production next Monday, the Nikkei Asian Review has learned.

The world's largest electronics manufacturer said in a WeChat post Thursday that it has been running test production of surgical masks at its flagship Lunghua manufacturing campus in Shenzhen since Feb. 5 and plans to reach mass production of 2 million units per day by the end of February.

The company, which trades as Hon Hai Precision Industry, will first supply masks internally but "will not rule out exporting them later," the post said. The production lines are now waiting for qualification approval, it said. 

"We are taking many proactive measures, including building an autonomous mask production line, to convince several local governments that we have the capability to resume production," a source familiar with the matter said.

"The local governments also ask us to guarantee we have sufficient protective equipment and resources for staff in order to obtain permission to restart work."

Apple's iPhone production could still suffer from understaffing even if Foxconn resumes production on Feb. 10, the Nikkei Asian Review has reported.

In response to the virus outbreak, Foxconn halted most of its production during the recent Lunar New Year holidays in a break with past practice.

Foxconn management announced a strict business trip approval policy amid the coronavirus outbreak, requiring anyone who travels to the mainland before Feb. 14 to file an application with the company's epidemic control center for review, according to an internal document obtained by the Nikkei Asian Review.

Foxconn employees wearing masks attend the company's year-end gala in Taipei on Jan. 22.   © Reuters

Several hundred of Foxconn’s Taiwanese employees who returned to Taiwan for Lunar New Year holidays are being booked by the company on flights to the mainland before Feb. 10, the Nikkei Asian Review has learned. They are being asked by their business groups to sign self-declaration forms before they travel.

The form asks employees to tick boxes including, "I have completed the coronavirus epidemic prevention training session" and "I have communicated with my family and made sure they agree with my dispatch/business trip," according to the internal document seen by the Nikkei Asian Review.

If direct flights to the mainland are unavailable in the next few days, the company will book indirect flights for employees to transit in an attempt to ensure they can start working on Feb. 10, sources told the Nikkei Asian Review.

"Who dares not to sign this form? I feel like I am being forced to return to an epidemic area and risk my own health," a Foxconn employee told the Nikkei Asian Review. "I know the core Foxconn management team has issued a strict business trip policy, but the business groups do not care at all."

Effective on Feb. 6, Taiwan authorities have suspended Chinese nationals from entering Taiwan, and urged Taiwanese people to avoid traveling to mainland China. Meanwhile, Taiwan's government has said all travelers who have prior travel to mainland China, Hong Kong and Macao must self-quarantine for 14 days.

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