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Cook: Apple's improved working conditions more than anyone

Apple CEO Tim Cook, speaking at an investor conference, defended the company's track record and its process of manufacturing hit products like the iPhone.

Apple CEO Tim Cook again defended his company's track record on improving working conditions at the manufacturing facilities of its suppliers, noting that it has done more to address the issue than any of its peers.

Apple CEO Tim Cook at a company event last year.
Apple CEO Tim Cook at a company event last year. Josh Lowensohn/CNET

"No one in our industry is doing more to improve working conditions than Apple," Cook said during an investor conference today.

Cook's comments come amid growing criticism over the working conditions at the factories used to construct hit Apple products such as the iPhone and iPad. Much of it was sparked by a New York Times story that highlighted some of the poor conditions that workers in China face.

On Friday, activist groups and SumofUs delivered 250,000 signed petitions to Apple stores around the world, calling for a more ethically built iPhone. Yesterday, Apple said it would launch fair-labor inspections of Foxconn, one of its major suppliers.

Apple has gone on the offensive in defending its actions. Supporters also point out that other tech companies, including Hewlett-Packard and Dell, use the same manufacturing facilities. Critics argue that since Apple is a leader in the tech industry, it should lead in its calls for better working conditions.

Cook said Apple finds the use of underage labor "abhorrent," and he noted that the practice is extremely rare in its supply chain. It is a "top priority" for Apple to eliminate it completely, Cook said, noting that a supplier who intentionally uses underage labor could be fired.

"We don't let anyone cut corners on safety," he said.

Apple will begin reporting data each month on the conditions of its suppliers, Cook said, in a bid to be more transparent. He said a study collected last month of working hours at factories found them to be 84 percent compliant.

"The audit that they're conducting is probably the most detailed factory audit in the history of mass manufacturing in scale, scope, and in transparency, and I am looking forward to seeing the results," he said. "We know that people have a very high expectation of Apple. We have an even higher expectation of ourselves."

This was Cook's first time speaking at the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference since 2010--and his first time since becoming CEO. Cook spoke at the event in 2007 and 2008, with many of the questions centering around the company's strategy for the iPhone and later for the iPad. The company has also used the venue as a place for news announcements, including that it would be selling the iPad at Best Buy stores in 2010.