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Apple begins 'unprecedented' inspection of Chinese factories

Apple has sent independent inspectors into its suppliers' factories, including controversial Foxconn facilities in China.

Apple has sent independent inspectors into its suppliers' factories to see if working conditions are up to scratch. The Fair Labor Association has begun auditing Apple's final assembly suppliers, including the controversy-hit Foxconn factories in China where the iPhone 5 is secretly being built.

Apple boss Tim Cook, successor to Steve Jobs, said the inspections were "unprecedented in the electronics industry, both in scale and scope".

Pressure has been mounting on Apple -- and other tech companies -- for some time over reports that employees had been driven to suicide by poor conditions. A recent petition demanding an 'ethical iPhone 5' attracted thousands of signatures.

Apple was the first tech company to join the FLA, amid controversial reports of harsh working conditions and even suicides in factories. Apple's response to concerns over labour conditions will hopefully nudge other tech brands such as Samsung, Panasonic and Sony to take a look at conditions where their products are built. At one Foxconn factory, employees have gone so far as to threaten mass suicide over production of the Xbox games console.

Inspections began this morning. A team of labour rights experts led by FLA president Auret van Heerden are looking at the Shenzhen factory known as Foxconn City, investigating manufacturing areas, dormitories and other facilities. They'll interview thousands of employees about living and working conditions, covering health and safety, compensation, working hours and communication with management.

The inspections will take in facilities where more than 90 per cent of Apple products are assembled.

The inspectors' first findings and recommendations will be posted in early March at fairlabor.org, with further inspections taking place in Spring.

Is Apple leading the way or covering its tracks? Should all manufacturers carry out these kinds of inspections? And as gadget fans, are we complicit in suppressing the quality of life of factory workers, or simply paying their wages? Tell me your thoughts in the comments or on CNET UK's Facebook page.