Apple on Monday said that it has asked the Fair Labor Association to conduct "special voluntary audits" of several of its assembly suppliers' facilities. Most notable among the companies is Foxconn, the partner which recently came under scrutiny for alleged mistreatment of workers at Chinese factories.
In a statement, Apple said that in addition to interviewing thousands of workers about living and working conditions at some of the factories, the FLA "will inspect manufacturing areas, dormitories and other facilities, and will conduct an extensive review of documents related to procedures at all stages of employment."
The FLA will investigate Foxconn facilities in the Chinese cities of Shenzhen and Chengdu; the results of those probes will be posted on the association's website in March. Apple also said that the FLA will conduct more audits at other supplier factories, including locations owned by Quanta and Pegatron.
“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,” Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, said in the statement
The announcement did not include comments from Foxconn or other partners, but Apple said that its "suppliers have pledged full cooperation with the FLA."
In January 2012, Apple became the first technology company to join the FLA, reports the New York Times.
Apple's request for a probe of Foxconn factories comes on the heels of reports about unsafe and brutal working conditions at Foxconn's massive Chinese facilities, where many of Apple's iPhone and iPad devices are assembled.
A January episode of This American Life, the radio program hosted by Ira Glass, focused on monologist Mike Daisy's trip to China in which he interviewed workers about the working conditions at Foxconn.
In 2010, there was a rash of suicides at Foxconn's Shenzhen plant. Plant managers installed nets to prevent more people from committing suicide by jumping from the roof. A May explosion at the company's Chengdu, China, plant killed three people and injured 15. A New York Times story published Jan. 26 reported on accidents and long hours in Foxconn factories, based on workers' accounts. Foxconn disputed allegations of back-to-back shifts and crowded living conditions.
Foxconn also manufactures products for Microsoft, Dell and Hewlett-Packard, according to the Associated Press.
A petition on Change.org, the advocacy site, asking Apple to "Protect Workers Making iPhones in Chinese Factories," has garnered more than 200,000 signatures.
A similar petition on SumOfUs.org, demanding that Apple oversee the manufacture of an "ethical" iPhone 5," received almost 60,000 signatures.
"This new announcement shows the pressure is working -- more than a quarter million people have joined our call [the combined effort of SumOfUs.org and Change.org] for an ethical iPhone 5 and Apple has clearly heard us," said Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, Executive Director of SumOfUs.org, according to a statement emailed to The Huffington Post on Monday.
Daisy, the monologist whose one-man show was excerpted for This American Life, wrote on his website that the news "is a welcome change."
"Apple has always been one of the most innovative companies in the world," Daisy wrote on Monday afternoon. "This is the moment when they must begin to show that they can also be the most humane."