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Apple Computer has vowed to cease driving its Chinese iPod assemblers like rented mules, after being shocked, shocked, to learn of abuses at several of its overseas factories. The Mail on Sunday recently broke the story, and identified poor conditions at factories in Longhua and Suzhou, operated by Taiwanese outfits Foxconn and Asustek.

The paper described workers driven more than 60 hours and more than six days per week, living in dormitories packed 100 to a room, earning £27 per month, and being denied visits from non-empoyees. The Longhua facility is reported to hold 200,000 workers behind its fences, chiefly uneducated young women and girls.

Apple was quick to respond. "In response to the allegations, we immediately dispatched an audit team comprised of members from our human resources, legal and operations groups to carry out a thorough investigation of the conditions at the manufacturing site," the company explains.

The company said its investigators found no evidence of forced labor or the exploitation of child workers (16 is the minimum legal age in China).

Apple has declined to identify the factory at which it conducted this thorough investigation, but one would be forgiven for imagining it as one of the better examples of offshore tech manufacturing.

The report gushes about the factory campus that Apple visited, with its "employee housing, banks, a post office, a hospital, supermarkets, and a variety of recreational facilities including soccer fields, a swimming pool, TV lounges and Internet cafes."

"Ten cafeterias are also located throughout the campus offering a variety of menu choices such as fresh vegetables, beef, seafood, rice, poultry, and stir-fry noodles. In addition, employees have access to 13 different restaurants on campus," the report notes.

And "employees were pleased with the variety and quality of food offerings," Apple's investigators learned.

The company has instituted a policy requiring workers to have one day off each week, and limiting them to 60 hours of work per week, except in unusual circumstances (e.g., the Christmas rush).

"We believe in the importance of a healthy work-life balance," the company explained. ®

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