Apple CEO Tim Cook visited a Foxconn production plant in Zhengzhou, China on Wednesday after a wave of reports earlier this year alleged Foxconn-owned facilities use unjust labor practices when churning out Apple’s popular iPad and iPhone products.
Cook met with some of the 120,000 workers employed by the newly built plant, which is part of the Zhengzhou Technology Park in the north central province of Hebei, according to a report from Reuters.
Word of unlawful labor practices at Foxconn facilities began spreading earlier this year, fueled especially by a New York Times report that exposed the employment of underage workers, worker exposure to toxic chemicals, 60-hour work weeks, involuntary labor, and employee suicides.
In response, Apple announced in February that the Fair Labor Association (FLA) will conduct a series of audits across its Foxconn factories in China. The FLA will interview thousands of employees, asking about working and living conditions, compensation, working hours, and communication with management, Apple said.
"We believe that workers everywhere have the right to a safe and fair work environment, which is why we’ve asked the FLA to independently assess the performance of our largest suppliers," Cook said in a statement.
Findings and recommendations from the FLA’s audits will be made publicly available on the association’s Web site, Apple said.
But labor conditions no longer represent the whole of Apple’s woes with China. In fact, the Foxconn trip was part of a much larger agenda followed by Cook during his visit to the country this week.
The relationship between Apple and China – its second biggest market after the U.S. – is now being called into question because of a pending trademark battle between the Cupertino, Calif.-based giant and Proview, a Chinese company that claims it owns the rights to the iPad name in mainland China.
Proview, which is a manufacturer of LCD computer displays, claims it registered the iPad trademark in China in 2000. Apple claims it bought the rights to the name from a Taiwanese company affiliated with Proview called Proview Taipei in 2009, but Proview claims rights in China were never part of the deal.
A Chinese court rejected Apple’s claim to the iPad name in December and awarded Proview continued ownership in the country. Apple has appealed the ruling, and the companies are now awaiting a verdict.
Proview in February extended the trademark case to the U.S., alleging that Apple was dishonest about its intended use for the iPad name and promised it was not to be used for product branding.
Cook’s itinerary this week included a trip to Beijing, where he met with leaders including Mayor Guo Jinlong of Beijing and Vice Premier Li Keqiang, who promised Cook the country would strengthen its intellectual property rights, Reuters said.
"To be more open to the outside is a condition for China to transform its economic development, expand domestic demands and conduct technological innovation," Keqiang was quoted as saying in a China’s Xinhua news.