Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: APPL) agreed to let outside monitors into factories of suppliers such as Foxconn Technology Group following at least 15 deaths at its Chinese parts makers.

The world’s most valuable technology company joins Nike Inc., Nestle SA and Syngenta AG in turning to the Fair Labor Association, set up in 1999 to monitor workplace conditions globally in an initiative by former U.S. President Bill Clinton. Apple is the first technology business to sign up to the FLA as a participating company, the Washington-based body said.

“We found that Apple takes supplier responsibility seriously and we look forward to their participation in the Fair Labor Association,” said Auret van Heerden, FLA’s chief executive officer, in a statement.

“We welcome Apple’s commitment to greater transparency and independent oversight, and we hope its participation will set a new standard for the electronics industry.”

Suppliers Disclosed

Apple also for the first time disclosed Friday the list of suppliers that produce the iPhone, iPad and other popular gadgets amid criticism of labor and environmental practices, especially in China.

The 2012 “Supplier Responsibility Progress Report” says that Apple Inc. conducted 229 audits throughout its supply chain last year. That’s up 80 percent from 127 audits in 2010.

The audits found labor, health, health and environmental violations, including instances of underage labor. Apple also outlines its response to each of the violations that were uncovered, which included ending its relationship with repeat offenders.

The report says that 78 Apple’s suppliers complied with antidiscrimination standards it has set for them. But only 38 percent observed its working hours policies.

Apple Is First Tech Firm to Join FLA

In addition to inspections and assessments, FLA says it “works with civil society organizations, universities and companies to develop and improve social responsibility programs and provide training and capacity building at the facility and brand level.”

Apple said it is “extremely proud” of its decision to join the FLA.

“We’re extremely proud to be the first technology company admitted to the FLA,” said Jeff Williams, Apple’s senior vice president of Operations. “Last year we performed more than 200 audits at our supplier’s facilities around the world. With the benefit of the FLA’s experience and expertise, we will continue to drive improvements.”

Apple’s affiliation with the FLA highlights the risk to multinational companies’ brands due to difficulties in policing suppliers as they outsource manufacturing to cut costs. Nike became a founding member of the association after reports of low pay, abuses and poor conditions at sportswear factories in Asia sparked boycotts and protests in the 1990s.

“Most big corporations have their ‘Nike moment’ at some stage — when they realize the difficulties of maintaining their standards, particularly in an increasingly global environment,” van Heerden said. “The problem with the supply chain is that it’s a moving target.”

The move by Apple will intensify scrutiny of its suppliers, including Seoul-based Samsung Electronics Co. and Inchon, South Korea-basedHynix Semiconductor Inc. The FLA makes unannounced checks on about 5 percent of its members’ supply chains each year, according to Van Heerden.

(Bloomberg news and The AP contributed to this report.)

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