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Tech factory working conditions are improving, report says

Apple and others are working to improve factory conditions in China following media attention, a report says.

They've come under heavy criticism of late, but Chinese factories employed by huge tech companies are improving their working conditions. That's according to an article in the New York Times, our sister site CNET reports.

Executives at Apple and other mobile makers are realising they need to push for better working conditions at the factories, the report says. "The days of easy globalisation are done," one anonymous Apple executive told the paper. "We know that we have to get into the muck now."

So what's changed? Well Foxconn -- whose factories make the iPadiPhone, and Xbox 360 -- is treating staff better, with shorter working hours and better wages. Apple is singled out for praise, having tripled its corporate social responsibility staff, and being more transparent than ever. It's also stopped treating labour issues "like engineering puzzles", and has adopted a "messier, more human approach" according to the report.

But other tech companies are pulling their socks up too. Intel's director of corporate responsibility, Gary Niekerk, is quoted as saying: "This is on the front burner for everyone now." No one at Intel wants to use a factory "that treats people badly, that ends up on the front page."

Though there's still a long way to go. The report says Apple doesn't compare favourably with clothing giants like Nike and Gap which have led change in their industry's factory working conditions. The problem is largely down to Apple's notorious policy of secrecy. All well and good when you're keeping a product shielded from public eyes, not so great if you're trying to improve working conditions.

It's a complex problem -- some Foxconn workers actually complained when working hours were reduced, for example -- and not one that has a quick and easy solution. But still, it's good to see change is happening.

Apple has posted a statement on factory conditions in China in the same paper. It points to the free classes given to factory workers, and says: "We believe deeply in transparency and have demonstrated this through reporting our shortcomings and exposing violations… Apple is in a unique position to lead and we have embraced this role since the earliest days of our supplier responsibility program. We do all these things out of respect for our customers and, most of all, the people who make our products."