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Apple partner Foxconn improving factory conditions in China

Working conditions seem to be improving at Apple production partner Foxconn's mainland China factories, if that's what measures like more comfortable chairs and protective foam on low stairwell ceilings mean.

A New York Times article details positive changes at Foxconn's China-based plants, which have been criticised by global labour rights groups and were toured by the Fair Labor Association (FLA) at Apple's request earlier this year.

In May, reports from both the Hong Kong-based watchdog group Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM) and the FLA found that abuses at Foxconn facilities persisted in spite of provisional warnings. This year's multiple Apple product launches put added pressure on the factories, which allegedly pushed workers into overtime and forced them to endure "humiliating" disciplinary action, including the writing and reading of confession letters, and manual labour duties like toilet cleaning.

A worker uprising came about a month later, when dozens of Foxconn employees were arrested during a riot at the Chengdu, China plant after a clash with security staff. Furthermore, reports of an iPhone 5 production line strike surfaced just weeks after the new Apple smartphone hit shelves in September.

But could the Taiwanese contract manufacturing giant be turning things around just in time to make a New Year's resolution?

According to the Times, Foxconn has already carried out more than 280 of the 360 changes recommended by the FLA.

One of which, it seems, was getting one assembly line worker, Pu Xiaolan, some cozier furniture.

Xiaolan's new seat is one of what the paper called "personal" reforms, along with automatic shut-off devices on whirring machines, and cushioned seats for other workers.

More significant, though, are those changes that will do more than comfort employee's backsides. Foxconn announced earlier this year that by next summer, schedules will allow for no more than an average of 49 hours of work a week. Former timetables kept some employees at the factory for almost 100 hours per week.

Meanwhile, other improvements being implemented by Foxconn are in areas like health and safety, environmental protection, compensation, grievance systems, workplace conduct and discipline, and termination and retrenchment policy.

Neither Foxconn nor Apple immediately responded to requests for comment.

Earlier this month, it was reported that Foxconn would expand operations into North America, a move that could come in conjunction with Apple's efforts to move some parts of its Mac production to the US next year.