Timothy "Tim" Cook, chief executive officer of Apple Inc. (Tony Avelar/BLOOMBERG)

Labor violations in Apple’s supply chain have been in the spotlight following several media reports calling the technology company’s practices into question and raising speculation that it ignores problems in pursuit of a better bottom line.

That accusation appears to have touched a nerve in Cupertino. Apple chief executive Tim Cook addressed the reports in a lengthy staff e-mail published by 9 to 5 Mac.

“Unfortunately some people are questioning Apple’s values today, and I’d like to address this with you directly,” Cook’s e-mail said. “We care about every worker in our worldwide supply chain. Any accident is deeply troubling, and any issue with working conditions is cause for concern. Any suggestion that we don’t care is patently false and offensive to us. As you know better than anyone, accusations like these are contrary to our values.”

Earlier this month, Apple released its annual audit of the human rights and labor conditions that it found in its partner facilities and revealed a list of its suppliers for the first time in company history. The report said that 62 percent of the 229 facilities it inspected were not in compliance with the company’s maximum 60-hour work policy; 13 percent did not have adequate protections for juvenile workers; and 32 percent had problems with the management of hazardous waste.

Two stories this week in the New York Times have brought the poor conditions revealed in Apple’s own report of its manufacturers into sharp focus. They built on momentum set off by a “This American Life” program in January focused on Apple partner Foxconn’s labor practices through the lens of Mike Daisey’s one-man show, ‘The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.’

The radio broadcast highlighted problems that Foxconn has with underage workers, 12-hour shifts that stretch even longer, and a lack of real representation from labor unions. One woman Daisey interviewed said that she was placed on a blacklist of “troublemakers” that the labor board provided to the company after she complained about the working conditions.

The New York Times story quotes one former Foxconn manager as saying, “Apple never cared about anything other than increasing product quality and decreasing production cost.” The worker, Li Mingqi, is suing Foxconn over his dismissal, the report said.

But the Times reports indicate that the problem extends far beyond Foxconn, to Apple itself. One quote, from a former Apple executive, was particularly damaging to the company. “We’ve known about labor abuses in some factories for four years, and they’re still going on,” the executive told the New York Times. “Why? Because the system works for us. Suppliers would change everything tomorrow if Apple told them they didn’t have another choice.”

The published e-mail disputes that claim.

“We will continue to dig deeper, and we will undoubtedly find more issues,” the e-mail continued. “What we will not do — and never have done — is stand still or turn a blind eye to problems in our supply chain. On this you have my word.”

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