Reporter roughed up by Apple supplier

Kicked and dragged for taking photos of a Foxconn plant from a public road in China

Foxconn's Guanlan factory. Credit: REUTERS/James Pomfret

Reuters’ report Wednesday about the lengths to which Apple (AAPL) and its suppliers will go to guard Steve Jobs’ secrets has everything: metal detectors, fingerprint scanners, product head-fakes, lawsuits, multimillion-dollar fines, a suicide, and employees afraid to breathe a word about what they do, even to their wives.

But the highpoint of the piece is a confrontation that took place outside one of the Chinese factories of Hon Hai Precision Instruments (trade name: Foxconn), the crown jewel of Apple’s far eastern supply chain. It starts with a tip:

Tipped by a worker outside the Longhua complex that a nearby Foxconn plant was manufacturing parts for Apple too, our correspondent hopped in a taxi for a visit to the facility in Guanlan, which makes products for a range of companies.

As he stood on the public road taking photos of the front gate and security checkpoint, a guard shouted. The reporter continued snapping photos before jumping into a waiting taxi. The guard blocked the vehicle and ordered the driver to stop, threatening to strip him of his taxi license.

The correspondent got out and insisted he was within his rights as he was on the main road. The guard grabbed his arm. A second guard ran over, and with a crowd of Foxconn workers watching, they tried dragging him into the factory.

The reporter asked to be let go. When that didn’t happen, he jerked himself free and started walking off. The older guard kicked him in the leg, while the second threatened to hit him again if he moved. A few minutes later, a Foxconn security car came along but the reporter refused to board it. He called the police instead.

After the authorities arrived and mediated, the guards apologized and the matter was settled. The reporter left without filing a complaint, though the police gave him the option of doing so.

“You’re free to do what you want,” the policeman explained, “But this is Foxconn and they have a special status here. Please understand.”

As the article points out, “it is unlikely that Apple tells security guards across the Pacific how to go about their business.” But the scene in Guanlan speaks for itself.

Neither Hon Hai nor Apple would comment to Reuters on its report, which adds several fresh details to a story that has been told many times before. You can read full piece here.

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[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped]

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