Apple Inc's Tim Cook, on his first trip to China as the chief executive officer, has visited an iPhone production plant run by the Foxconn Technology Group, which is being accused of improper labor practices.
China is the world's largest mobile market and already Apple's second-biggest market overall, but its growth there is clouded by issues ranging from a contested iPad trademark to treatment of local labor.
Picture handouts dated March 28 and e-mailed to Reuters show Cook seen smiling and meeting workers in the newly built Foxconn ZhengzhouTechnology Park in the north central province of Hebei. The facility employs 120,000 people, the handouts said.
Foxconn is a major part of Apple's global supply chain, assembling most of its iPhones and iPads, but has been hit by a string of worker suicides in recent years that activist groups blame on tough working conditions.
The group is the Taiwan parent of Hong Kong-listed Foxconn International Holdings and Taiwan-listed Hon Hai Precision.
Cook took the reins at Apple in August after the death of the firm's visionary founder, Steve Jobs. His closely guarded itinerary has included talks with Vice Premier Li Keqiang, Beijing's mayor and a visit to one of Apple's two stores in the capital.
On Wednesday, state media reported that China's vice premier promised Cook the country would boost intellectual property protection.
the official Xinhua news agency cited Vice Premier Li Keqiang as saying.
"To be more open to the outside is a condition for China to transform its economic development, expand domestic demands and conduct technological innovation."
Apple has tie-ups with China Telecom and China Unicom to sell its iPhone, with the only other Chinese carrier, China Mobile, the country's biggest mobile operator, also looking to clinch a deal.
Apple is embroiled in a long-running dispute with Proview - a financially weak technology company that claims to have registered the iPad trademark - that is making its way through Chinese courts and threatens to disrupt iPad sales.
COMMENTARY: I would gladly give up one case of Chateauneuf du Pape '04 to find out what Apple CEO Tim Cook told Foxconn management during his visit to the plant concerning their sweat shop conditions, progress on Apple inspections of their plant, and plan to improve worker relations and pay.
Cook's visit to Foxconn makes good public relations--images of the powerful new Apple CEO visiting Foxconn, gives one confidence that finally those sweat shop conditions will end, Foxconn will comply with Apple's Code of Suppliers and everything will be hunky-dorey. As I said in my post prior to this one, Apple is not a socially conscience company. They are all about increasing shareholder value and profitability.
If Apple CEO Tim Cook really wanted to impress me, he would give Foxconn an ultimatum, and if they failed to comply after regular inspections, he would promise to move the manufacturing all Apple products to the U.S. This would create an estimated 250,000 jobs, many of them right here in Silicon Valley, where we need them the most.
I would be very interested in hearing from Apple evangelists--owners of Apple magical devices whether the iPhone, iPad or iPod. Foxconn makes all of them, so you can enjoy that magical experience.