A picture from the Apple store. Image via AFP.

Technology giant Apple, Inc. said Monday it was asking the Fair Labor Association (FLA) to investigate working conditions at Chinese electronics manufacturer Foxconn, essentially caving to the demands of protesters who delivered over 250,000 petition signatures to the company last week.

Foxconn, which hires over 1 million Chinese workers, has been plagued over the years byreports of suicides, and in one instance last year, a group of about 300 people threatened to jump to their deaths if they weren’t given better pay and working conditions.

Foxconn, which makes devices for companies like Apple, Microsoft, Sony, Intel and others, has said it plans to replace most of its workers with robots in the coming years. Meanwhile, the company keeps its human workers in small bunks on site, works them in 12-24 hour shifts, provides little food or medical assistance, and oversees their daily duties with military-like precision using advance surveillance techniques.

Apple, for its part, joined the FLA in January as criticism against Foxconn was mounting. They became the first tech company to partner with the Washington, D.C. group, which is dedicated to stamping out sweat shops throughout the world. Other FLA partners include Nike, Barnes & Noble, Liz Blaiborne, Inc., Puma AG and American Eagle Outfitters, Inc.

After last week’s petitions, the company decided it was time to pull the trigger on their FLA membership rights, so Apple asked that the group to begin fair labor inspections of Foxconn’s facilities.

“We believe that workers everywhere have the right to a safe and fair work environment, which is why we’ve asked the FLA to independently assess the performance of our largest suppliers,” Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, explained in a media advisory. “The inspections now underway are unprecedented in the electronics industry, both in scale and scope, and we appreciate the FLA agreeing to take the unusual step of identifying the factories in their reports.”

This is not the first time Apple has listened to its critics, either: after years of campaigning by environmental groups, Apple announced last year that it was initiating an e-waste recycling program that would accept any old Macs, PC, computer displays or mobile devices. They even offer to pick up the shipping tab, and if the company can turn a profit on any of the hardware turned in, customers receive gift cards for various amounts.

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