Apple's Tim Cook visits Foxconn factory in China
Published Mar 29 2012, 11:33 BST | By Andrew Laughlin Apple
chief executive Tim Cook
has visited a new iPhone production plant in China run by Foxconn Technology Group, which has faced criticism over its labour practices.
Cook is currently on his first trip to China since taking over from Steve Jobs as boss of Apple, and is expected to evaluate future expansion in the Chinese market
China is already the world's biggest consumer of mobile devices, and is now the second biggest overall market for Apple products.
© PA Images / Vincent Yu/AP
© PA Images / Jeff Chiu/AP
However, Apple's growth in China has been marred by a series of scandals, including an ongoing battle over the iPad trademark with Proview Technologies
that temporarily resulted in iPad sales being stopped earlier in the year.
Apple has also struggled with other issues in China, including people making fake iPhones
, smuggling new products over the border from Japan, and even completely counterfeit 'Apple stores' springing up in parts of the country
But the biggest controversy has come over high-profile investigations into alleged poor working conditions in its Chinese suppliers, particularly the facilities run by Foxconn.
According to media reports, Cook yesterday visited the newly-built Foxconn Zhengzhou Technology Park in the north central province of Hebei, which employs 120,000 people and makes iPhones.
It is unclear how long Cook spent at the plant or whether he spoke to any of the workers.
In 2010, Foxconn hit the headlines after a string of worker suicides that campaigners blamed on tough working conditions at its plants, particularly around the time of major new Apple product launches.
The problems have continued, and in January this year 150 Foxconn employees threatened to jump from a three-floor plant in Wuhan as a protest against poor pay and the pressurised environment.
Apple has agreed for the Fair Labour Association (FLA) to conduct "special voluntary audits" of several facilities, including plants owned by Foxconn
. These started last month in Shenzen, but will soon extend to Chengdu.
The FLA is understood to have already reported back that it has found "tons of issues" in Apple's supply chain, but the group has also seen some "dramatic improvements".
Alongside the Foxconn visit, Cook is thought to have held talks with Vice Premier Li Keqiang and Beijing's mayor, as well as visited Apple's two stores in the capital.
Chinese state media reported yesterday that the Vice Premier had told Cook that China is committed to improving intellectual property protection.
"To be more open to the outside is a condition for China to transform its economic development, expand domestic demands and conduct technological innovation," the Xinhua
news agency quoted Li Keqiang as saying.