Apple will allow independent environmental audits of at least two of its suppliers’ manufacturing plants, and they could begin as early as March, reports activist Ma Jun to USA Today. Ma is the founder of the Chinese Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE), one of several environmental organizations that has been critical of the companies' environmental practices. While Apple has performed its own audits of its production facilities since 2007, the new inspections by the Fair Labor Association and now the IPE mark a big change in how the company deals with labor and environmental complaints.

So far the plans only include two as yet unnamed suppliers, but this could be expanded to include more in the future. The decision to allow the inspections follows two reports last year from the IPE and other organizations, one of which accuses over twenty suspected Apple manufacturers of environmental violations. Of these companies, Apple has acknowledged that it works with seven, including Foxconn and Meiko Electronics, a suspected PCB supplier to Apple and repeat offender in the report. On the topic of its own audits, Apple’s Supplier Responsibility Progress Report for 2012 reports that the company sent “globally recognized environmental engineering experts” to audit 14 of its facilities, but found that three had exceeded the limit for hazardous waste production, and three had inconsistent waste transport records, although the company is taking actions to remedy this.