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Thursday, January 26, 2012, 10:59 pm PT (01:59 am ET)

Tim Cook calls assault on Apple's ethics in China "patently false and offensive"

Responding to a report by the New York Times that castigated Apple over an alleged permissiveness and indifference for workers' conditions among the suppliers it contract with in China, its chief executive Tim Cook rebutted the accusations in an email expressing "any suggestion that we don’t care is patently false and offensive to us."

The report, published on Wednesday, cited former Apple executives as making comments such as, "We’ve known about labor abuses in some factories for four years, and they’re still going on. Why? Because the system works for us."

Another "former Apple executive with direct knowledge of the company's supplier responsibility group" was cited as saying, "If you see the same pattern of problems, year after year, that means the company’s ignoring the issue rather than solving it,” said another former Apple executive with direct knowledge of the company's supplier responsibility group. “Noncompliance is tolerated, as long as the suppliers promise to try harder next time. If we meant business, core violations would disappear."

Tim Cook's email to employees

A report published by The Next Web said Cook "has fired back at reports into issues surrounding the company’s operations and partners in emerging markets," reportedly writing in his letter to employees:

Team,

As a company and as individuals, we are defined by our values. Unfortunately some people are questioning Apple’s values today, and I’d like to address this with you directly. 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. It’s not who we are.

For the many hundreds of you who are based at our suppliers’ manufacturing sites around the world, or spend long stretches working there away from your families, I know you are as outraged by this as I am. For the people who aren’t as close to the supply chain, you have a right to know the facts.

Every year we inspect more factories, raising the bar for our partners and going deeper into the supply chain. As we reported earlier this month, we’ve made a great deal of progress and improved conditions for hundreds of thousands of workers. We know of no one in our industry doing as much as we are, in as many places, touching as many people.

At the same time, no one has been more up front about the challenges we face. We are attacking problems aggressively with the help of the world’s foremost authorities on safety, the environment, and fair labor. It would be easy to look for problems in fewer places and report prettier results, but those would not be the actions of a leader.

Earlier this month we opened our supply chain for independent evaluations by the Fair Labor Association. Apple was in a unique position to lead the industry by taking this step, and we did it without hesitation. This will lead to more frequent and more transparent reporting on our supply chain, which we welcome. These are the kinds of actions our customers expect from Apple, and we will take more of them in the future.

We are focused on educating workers about their rights, so they are empowered to speak up when they see unsafe conditions or unfair treatment. As you know, more than a million people have been trained by our program.

We will continue to dig deeper, and we will undoubtedly find more issues. 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. You can follow our progress at apple.com/supplierresponsibility.

To those within Apple who are tackling these issues every day, you have our thanks and admiration. Your work is significant and it is changing people’s lives. We are all proud to work alongside you.

Tim