Apple CEO's visit to Foxconn plant dredges up controversial history

Apple CEO Tim Cook this week met with Chinese officials and toured a plant owned by Foxconn, which manufacturers parts for Apple. 

Apple CEO Tim Cook pays a visit to a Foxconn plant in China.

In January, the New York Times published a long investigative piece examining the working conditions at several Chinese plants owned by Foxconn, which manufactures iPad and iPhone parts for Apple. Among the findings: Foxconn employees "labor in harsh conditions," live in overpacked dormitories, and work "excessive" overtime – sometimes standing "so long that their legs swell until they can hardly walk." 

The article was damning, and under fire from critics, Apple eventually agreed to hire the Fair Labor Association to conduct an outside audit of its China-based suppliers. That was last month. This week brings news that Apple exec Tim Cook, who took over the reins of the company from the late founder, Steve Jobs, has journeyed to China for the first time in his tenure as CEO. 

"Tim is in China meeting with government officials. China is very important to us and we look forward to even greater investment and growth there," Apple spokesperson Carolyn Wu told Reuters today. Meanwhile, Apple said Cook had spoken with vice premier Li Keqiang. 

Other details of the trip remain murky: Apple has not made Cook's itinerary public. However, newly released photos show that on Wednesday, Cook made at least one trip to a large Foxconn factory. 

Cook is also likely to discuss with Chinese officials an ongoing legal showdown over the iPad trademark. A Chinese company called Proview has claimed that it owns the mainland China trademarks for the iPad; Apple says Proview is "misleading" Chinese customers. 

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