A key supplier for U.S.-based Apple has made progress in improving labor standards at Chinese factories after abuses came to light, a watchdog group said Tuesday.
The Fair Labor Association said in a status report that Apple's largest supplier, Foxconn, was ahead of schedule in making improvements sought after reports of harsh working conditions at the Chinese plants making Apple devices.
Apple and Foxconn earlier this year accepted the group's recommendations and created a 15-month action plan.
Apple in January became the first electronics company to join the labor group — a coalition of universities, non-governmental organizations and businesses committed to improving the well-being, safety, fair treatment, and respect of workers.
"Our verification shows that the necessary changes, including immediate health and safety measures, have been made," said Auret van Heerden, head of the Fair Labor Association.
"We are satisfied that Apple has done its due diligence thus far to hold Foxconn accountable for complying with the action plan, including the commitment to reform its internship program."
The review found that Foxconn had taken steps to bring its factories into compliance with Chinese legal limits on working hours by July 2013.
Foxconn has already reduced hours to under 60 per week including overtime with the goal of compliance with the Chinese legal limit of 40 hours per week plus an average of nine hours of overtime per week.
"The next phase of improvements will be challenging for Foxconn because they involve major changes in the working environment that will inevitably cause uncertainty and anxiety among workers" said van Heerden.
The verification teams found the factories were making changes such as adding health and safety breaks, improving the design of equipment to guard against repetitive stress injuries, and updating maintenance policies to ensure equipment is working properly.
The review came after international labor watchdog groups said workers in Foxconn facilities are poorly treated, and blamed a string of apparent suicides on the conditions.
Earlier this year, Apple chief executive Tim Cook visited a Foxconn plant in China's central city of Zhengzhou, where he viewed the production line.
California-based Apple is wildly popular in China, where its products such as the iPhone and iPad are coveted by wealthy consumers.
Apple agreed in January to allow inspections by the labor association following reports that employees were overworked and underpaid at Foxconn factories in China.
Teams also were to inspect factories owned by two other Taiwan-owned manufacturers, Quanta and Pegatron, which also make Apple products.