The Financial Times is reporting that Apple is preparing to audit its Chinese supply chain for pollution and will begin joint investigations with a local environmental group “in the next few weeks.”

The newspaper states that one of Apple’s partners, “a maker of printed circuit boards”, is set to be inspected by the firm and the China-based Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE) as it looks to bring environmental issues to the surface.

News of the planned audit first broke in February when Ma Jun, the founder of the IPE, told USA Today that the firm had commissioned independent environmental reviews of at least two of its partner’s factories in China. However, it seems that Apple will have a level of involvement in proceedings, while there are no details of any more than the one factory visit.

The Cupertino-based firm has previously kept details of its environmental issues in-house but, as Jun explains, the company has now realised the importance of being open with its findings.

“One Apple vice-president said that transparency was needed and I felt that was the moment they decided they wanted to change the way they were doing things,” he told the Financial Times. “But it’s now become about validation, we keep telling them that you can’t just say that everything’s fine – we need proof.”

The change in attitude began last year when a meeting was held between Apple and its suppliers in China, following a series of environmental issues at a number of plants. Notebook casing supplier Catcher Technology was forced to close one facility over environmental concerns, while iPhone supplier Pegatron was fined for pumping out harmful gases during the manufacturing of products.

Apple is seemingly aware of issues in China, having increased the number of audits of its partners there to 229 last year, that’s 80 percent more than it ran in 2009, and it is now making public efforts to bring its workings in China up to the required standard.

The investigation into environmental issues follows Fair Labor Association (FLA) reports into the welfare of workers in Apple’s partner firms in China. Initial comments were positive, however the FLA’s conclusion found extensive violations in areas like payroll, working schedules and health and safety risks.

Two recent New York Times articles, How the U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work and In China, Human Costs Are Built Into an iPad, painted a grim picture of the lives of workers that build the company’s products and put company CEO Tim Cook under increased pressure.

Cook has since visited China — becoming the first serving Apple CEO to do so — and the country is very much a focus, both in terms of sales and now the social side of its business.

We’ve contacted Apple for confirmation of the investigation and will update the article with any response we are given.