ABC granted exclusive access to Apple’s Chinese factories, will air report Feb 21st.

In recent weeks, Apple has come under intense fire for the conditions under which workers in its Chinese factories labor to make its products. Partly a matter of the appalling state of laborer’s rights in China and partly a matter of Apple being a very large and recognizable target on which to focus an issue, the reports have sparked massive debate.

Largely instigated by two New York Times articles, How the U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work and In China, Human Costs Are Built Into an iPad, Apple announced that it had reached out to the Fair Labor Association, a non-profit that investigates working conditions for laborers around the world. The organization was asked to perform voluntary audits for Apple on the Foxconn plants in Chengdu and Shenzen China, where it manufactures products like the iPad.

Now, in an unprecedented move, Apple has opened up its factories and supply chain in China to ABC news, allowing them to create a report which will air beginning February 21st, reports 9to5Mac.

Nightline anchor Bill Weir headed up the report and traveled to Shenzen, China to see what life is like for workers in Apple’s factories.

“For years, Apple and Foxconn have been synonymous with monster profits and total secrecy so it was fascinating to wander the iphone and iPod production lines, meet the people who build them and see how they live. Our cameras were rolling when thousands of hopeful applicants rushed the Foxconn gates and I spoke with dozens of line workers and a top executive about everything from hours and pay to the controversies over suicides at the plant and the infamous “jumper nets” that line the factories in Shenzhen. After this trip, I’ll never see an Apple product the same way again” said Weir

The story will begin airing on Nightline, this Tuesday February 21st EST on ABC. Other segments will be featured across ABC properties “Good Morning America,” “World News with Diane Sawyer,” ABCNews.com, ABC News Radio and ABC Newsone.

When questioned in a recent conference, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook said that “No one is doing more to improve working conditions in China than Apple,” but that the company could, and would, do more.

“Apple takes working conditions very seriously,” said Cook, launching right into a question about how Apple handles working conditions. “We take the conditions of workers very seriously. I worked in factories, I worked at a paper mill. We understand working conditions at a very granular level.”

The Apple CEO said that he knows Apple is expected to lead when it comes to worker safety and supplier responsibility, and that it wants to continue to do so. To that end, Apple will publish monthly updates on worker hours, overtime and working conditions to its website.

This is a surprising move for the traditionally very private company. Extensive access to its supply chain has never, in our memory, been granted to a news organization like ABC. This is Apple meeting the criticism head on, inviting not just one of its traditional media partners like the Wall Street Journal, but a mainstream television reporting magazine, right into the heart of the controversy. It really does bring to mind the recent words of Apple Senior Vice President Phil Schiller, as relayed by John Gruber, “We’re starting to do some things differently.”