An independent group has begun inspecting the Chinese factories where Apple's iPads and iPhones are assembled, amid growing criticism of adverse working conditions.
The technology giant disclosed a list of suppliers for its popular gadgets last month for the first time.
The Fair Labour Association team began the inspections yesterday morning at Foxconn City in Shenzhen, China, Apple said. The complex employs and houses hundreds of thousands of workers.
Foxconn, a unit of Taiwan's Hon Hai Precision Industry, employs approximately one million people in China at a series of huge factory campuses. Foxconn assembles iPads and iPhones for Apple, Xbox 360 gaming consoles for Microsoft and other gadgets for companies including Hewlett-Packard and Dell.
In 2010 there was a rash of suicides at Foxconn's Shenzhen plant and managers installed nets to prevent more people from committing suicide by jumping from the roof.
In May, an explosion at the company's Chengdu plant killed three people and injured 15. The New York Times published a story in January 2012 reporting on accidents and long hours at Foxconn factories, based on workers' accounts. Foxconn has disputed allegations of back-to-back shifts and crowded living conditions.
Apple has been conducting its own audits of working conditions at factories where its gadgets are assembled since 2006. A month ago, it took the additional step of joining Washington-based FLA, a group of companies and universities focused on improving work practices.
Apple, the most valuable company in the world, is the first technology company to become a member. It has committed to having the FLA inspect its suppliers, who have pledged full co-operation. The FLA plans to interview thousands of employees at several Apple suppliers about working and living conditions. The audits will cover facilities where more than 90 per cent of Apple products are assembled.
The FLA's findings and recommendations are expected to be posted on www.fairlabour.org in early March 2012.