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Apple's Foxconn factories 'first-class', says inspector

Chinese factories used by Apple have been given a glowing assessment, despite only opening their doors to labour inspectors this week.

The Chinese factories used by Apple to build the iPhone and iPad have been given a glowing initial assessment, despite only opening their doors to inspectors a few days ago.

The independent Fair Labor Association is investigating factories in China where Apple products are built to assess the conditions workers are expected to labour under -- after reports workers had been driven to suicide -- and its first impressions are "first-class".

Despite the inspections only beginning this week, FLA president Auret van Heerden told Reuters that conditions at the controversial Foxconn factory are "way, way above average of the norm".

His first impression of the plant run by Foxconn, the company notorious for suffering poor conditions, major industrial accidents and even workers committing suicide, is that it is "tranquil". That's in comparison to Chinese clothing factories, anyway.

Van Heerden suggested that "monotony, boredom and alienation" are perhaps the biggest problems for workers, many of whom are rural youngsters thrust into a high-pressure environment.

A whopping 35,000 workers employed by Apple's top eight suppliers in China will be interviewed anonymously during the inspections about the state of food and accomodation, their pay and working conditions, and their emotional wellbeing.

Responses will be provided, appropriately enough, by typing answers into iPads. Although if my job was building them, another bloomin' iPad might be the last thing I'd want to see.

The assessements will also involve unannounced visits and unrestricted access followed by public reporting, with the interests of member companies balanced by non-governmental organisations and universities also sitting on the FLA board. Results will be published in March, before the FLA visits other Apple suppliers. 

Apple is the first technology company to join the FLA, so I hope more will follow suit -- it'll certainly help assuage my gadget guilt. Do you feel better knowing an independent body is checking out the factories where our gadgets are built, or would you rather not know where our tech toys come from? Tell me your thoughts in the comments or on our Facebook page.