Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang has told Apple's new chief that foreign firms should protect workers, state media said Thursday, as the US giant fends off criticism over factory conditions in China.
International labour watchdog groups have said workers in Chinese plants run by major Apple supplier Foxconn of Taiwan are poorly treated, and have blamed a string of apparent suicides on the conditions.
Li, who is widely tipped to be the country's next premier, met Tim Cook while the new Apple chief executive was visiting Beijing on Tuesday, the state Xinhua news agency reported.
Li told Cook multinational companies should "pay more attention to caring for workers", the report said.
California-based Apple is wildly popular in China, where its products such as the iPhone and iPad are coveted by wealthy consumers.
Greater China -- which includes Hong Kong and Taiwan -- has become Apple's fastest growing region, and revenue from there is second only to the United States.
But the company, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Li meeting, is grappling with a series of problems from negative publicity over its supply chain to a trademark contest.
Chinese computer firm Proview Technology (Shenzhen) claims it owns the "iPad" trademark, and has sought to block sales of the iconic tablet computer in China through lawsuits.
Apple says it legally bought the rights to the trademark.
Xinhua quoted Li as saying that China would "strengthen intellectual property rights protection", although the report did not say whether he commented directly on the trademark dispute.
The Taiwan affiliate of Proview registered "iPad" as a trademark in several countries including China as early as 2000 -- years before Apple began selling its product.
The US titan subsequently bought the rights for the global trademark, but Proview claims the Taiwanese affiliate had no right to sell the Chinese rights.
A Chinese court is now considering an appeal by Apple after rejecting its earlier lawsuit against Proview for trademark infringement last year due to lack of evidence.
A watchdog group, Fair Labor Association, recently toured Foxconn facilities and factories of other Apple suppliers in China with Apple's consent but has yet to release its findings.