Mak­ing Ivanka Trump shoes

Long hours, low pay and abuse

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - PERSPECTIVES - BY ERIKA KINETZ

A worker with blood drip­ping from his head marked a low point in the tense, grind­ing life at a south­east­ern China fac­tory used by Ivanka Trump and other fash­ion brands. An an­gry man­ager had hit him with the sharp end of a high-heeled shoe.

Work­ers from the fac­tory, in­clud­ing one cur­rent and two for­mer em­ploy­ees who spoke to The As­so­ci­ated Press, re­ported over­time that stretched past mid­night, steep pro­duc­tion quo­tas and crude ver­bal abuse at Ganzhou Hua­jian In­ter­na­tional Shoe City Co. They said beat­ings were not un­heard of, but the shoe at­tack, which all three say they wit­nessed last year, was vi­o­lent enough to stand out.

“He was bleed­ing right from the mid­dle of the head,” the cur­rent worker said.

“There was a lot of blood. He went to the fac­tory’s nurse sta­tion, pass­ing by me,” said a sec­ond man, who said he quit his job at Hua­jian be­cause of the long hours and low pay.

The three work­ers are the first peo­ple with di­rect knowl­edge of con­di­tions at the Ganzhou fac­tory to speak with the me­dia. All three spoke to the AP on con­di­tion of anonymity, for fear of ret­ri­bu­tion or ar­rest.

Last month, three men in­ves­ti­gat­ing con­di­tions at the Hua­jian Group fac­tory in Ganzhou were de­tained, ac­cused of il­le­gally us­ing se­cret record­ing de­vices to steal com­mer­cial se­crets. They, like one of the three men AP spoke with, worked with China La­bor Watch, a New York group that has been in­ves­ti­gat­ing Ivanka Trump’s Chi­nese sup­pli­ers for more than a year. The group said the men were re­leased on bail Wed­nes­day, the fi­nal day of their legally man­dated 30-day de­ten­tion pe­riod limit.

Li Qiang, founder of China La­bor Watch, de­scribes Hua­jian’s Ganzhou fac­tory as among the worst he has seen in nearly two decades in­ves­ti­gat­ing labour abuses. His group says pay can be as low as a dol­lar an hour, in vi­o­la­tion of China’s labour laws. Ac­cord­ing to China La­bor Watch in­ves­ti­ga­tors, un­til re­cently, work­ers might get only two days off — or less — per month.

China La­bor Watch said the com­pany forced work­ers to sign fake pay stubs with in­flated salary amounts and threat­ened to fire work­ers if they didn’t fill in ques­tion­naires about work­ing con­di­tions with pre-ap­proved an­swers. Work­ers also said the com­pany pres­sured peo­ple not to speak with out­siders about con­di­tions at the fac­tory.

In com­ments to the AP, the Hua­jian Group de­clined to re­spond to spe­cific ques­tions, but broadly de­nied all al­le­ga­tions, call­ing them “com­pletely not true to the facts, taken out of con­text, ex­ag­ger­ated.” The com­pany said it op­er­ates law­fully and that China La­bor Watch “in­vented so-called ‘facts’ by il­le­gal means of buy­ing un­der­cover work, which has al­ready af­fected the en­ter­prise’s nor­mal busi­ness se­ri­ously and af­fected the sur­vival and em­ploy­ment of tens of thou­sands of staff.” The com­pany noted its sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion to the econ­omy and to society, par­tic­u­larly through its em­ploy­ment of dis­abled peo­ple.

Be­fore tak­ing on an of­fi­cial role as ad­viser to her fa­ther, Ivanka Trump stepped back from day-to-day man­age­ment of her brand, but she has re­tained her own­er­ship in­ter­est.

In Wash­ing­ton on Tues­day, she spoke at a cer­e­mony un­veil­ing the an­nual U.S. Traf­fick­ing in Per­sons Re­port, in which China was de­moted to the low­est rank­ing over its hu­man traf­fick­ing record. She said the re­port is “clar­ion call into ac­tion in de­fence of the vul­ner­a­ble and the ex­ploited.”

She has not com­mented, how­ever, on the de­ten­tions or the re­ports of poor work­ing con­di­tions at one of her brand’s sup­pli­ers. Her spokes­woman de­clined to com­ment for this story.

Abi­gail Klem, pres­i­dent of the Ivanka Trump brand, said “the in­tegrity of our sup­ply chain is a top pri­or­ity and we take all al­le­ga­tions very se­ri­ously.” The com­pany says its prod­ucts have not been made in the fac­tory since March, but China La­bor Watch said it had an April pro­duc­tion sched­ule in­di­cat­ing that nearly 1,000 pairs of Ivanka Trump shoes were due in May.

In the past, some brands have used China La­bor Watch’s re­ports as a tool to help keep their sup­ply chains clean. Walt Dis­ney Co., for ex­am­ple, in­ves­ti­gated and ul­ti­mately de­cided to sever its re­la­tion­ship with at least one sup­plier fol­low­ing re­ports of poor con­di­tions, and sought to im­prove labour prac­tices at oth­ers.

China La­bor Watch out­lined its find­ings in let­ters sent in June to Ivanka Trump at the White House and to other brands. So far, the group says it has got­ten no re­sponse.

The group said it also sent Ivanka Trump a video taken in­side the fac­tory in May. That video in­cluded a clip in which a man­ager threat­ened to rough up a worker who had ap­par­ently ar­ranged shoes in the wrong or­der.

“If I see them f---ing messed up again,” the man­ager yells, “I’ll beat you right here.”

The video has not been re­leased to the pub­lic, but it was shown to AP at China La­bor Watch’s of­fice in New York.

Marc Fisher, which has made shoes for Ivanka Trump and Easy Spirit at the Ganzhou fac­tory, has said it would look into the al­le­ga­tions.

G-III Ap­parel Group, which pro­duces shoes for Karl Lager­feld, said it had not re­ceived a letter but “fully sup­ports the in­de­pen­dent mon­i­tor­ing of global sup­ply chains.”

“When work­place safety and fair­ness is­sues are brought to our at­ten­tion, we take them very se­ri­ously and work with our part­ners to re­solve them,” G-III spokesman Chris Giglio said in an email.

Ann Tay­lor spokesman Shawn Buchanan also said the com­pany takes the al­le­ga­tions “very se­ri­ously” and is “ac­tively con­duct­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion to as­sess this fa­cil­ity’s com­pli­ance with our code of con­duct and ap­pli­ca­ble laws and reg­u­la­tions.”

The Ken­dall & Kyle brand said its “footwear man­u­fac­turer works with many footwear pro­duc­tion fac­to­ries and all fac­to­ries are re­quired to op­er­ate within strict so­cial com­pli­ance reg­u­la­tions.”

Other brands iden­ti­fied by China La­bor Watch as cus­tomers of the Ganzhou fac­tory in­clude Nine West, Nat­u­ral­izer and the Ca­muto Group, which makes shoes for BCBG Max Azria, Jessica Simp­son and Tory Burch. None re­sponded to re­quests for com­ment.

The cur­rent Hua­jian em­ployee who spoke to the AP said life at the fac­tory has changed since the ar­rests of the three in­ves­ti­ga­tors brought the glare of pub­lic at­ten­tion.

Over­time was rad­i­cally re­duced this month, he said. Shifts used to run from 7:10 a.m. un­til af­ter 9 p.m. or 10 p.m., and some­times af­ter mid­night, with two daily breaks, he and a for­mer em­ployee both said. But for the last few weeks, work­ers have been re­leased be­fore 7 p.m.

They’re also start­ing to get ev­ery Sun­day off, which is stan­dard un­der Chi­nese labour law, said the cur­rent em­ployee, who also moon­lights for China La­bor Watch.

City gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials turned up re­cently, he said, and the fac­tory gave ev­ery­one an egg to eat in the mid­dle of their af­ter­noon shift.

Life in­side Ganzhou Hua­jian is fo­cused on a sin­gle num­ber: the monthly quota of shoes that must be pro­duced, ac­cord­ing to China La­bor Watch in­ves­ti­ga­tors and work­ers. A sin­gle pro­duc­tion line of 50 work­ers may need to pro­duce close to 30,000 pairs of shoes, de­pend­ing on sea­sonal de­mand, the cur­rent em­ployee and one for­mer em­ployee told AP.

Those who miss their tar­gets do not col­lect the full salary, said the cur­rent em­ployee.

“It is im­pos­si­ble to meet the tar­get, ac­tu­ally, be­cause it just keeps on go­ing up,” the for­mer em­ployee said.

The new ab­bre­vi­ated work­ing hours are a mixed bless­ing, the cur­rent em­ployee said, be­cause they haven’t been able to meet pro­duc­tion tar­gets.

Hua­jian, mean­while, has been mov­ing pro­duc­tion to Ethiopia, where work­ers make around $100 a month, a frac­tion of what they pay in China, ac­cord­ing to Song Yip­ing, a man­ager at Hua­jian’s Ethiopian fac­tory, who spoke to the AP in Jan­uary. He said he’s heard Pres­i­dent Trump talk about bring­ing jobs back to Amer­ica, but he doubts that will hap­pen with shoes. Even Chi­nese vo­ca­tional school dropouts don’t want to work for Ethiopian wages.

“The Amer­i­can clients push down the price,” Song ex­plained. “Con­sumers want to buy cheaper shoes.”

AP PHOTO

In this Jan. 5 photo, Ethiopian fac­tory work­ers make shoes at the Chi­nese com­pany Hua­jian’s plant in Ad­dis Ababa, Ethiopia.

AP PHOTO

Ivanka Trump ap­plauds dur­ing the 2017 Traf­fick­ing in Per­sons Re­port re­lease, Tues­day. Trump faces al­le­ga­tions of labour abuses at a Chi­nese fac­tory that makes shoes for her sold un­der her brand.

AP PHOTO

A se­cu­rity guard smokes near a main en­trance gate of the Ganzhou Hua­jian In­ter­na­tional Shoe City Co.’s fac­tory, which has made shoes for the Ivanka Trump brand, in Ganzhou in south­ern China’s Jiangxi Prov­ince. The sign reads “vis­i­tors please exit the ve­hi­cle and reg­is­ter, peo­ple with­out rel­e­vant rea­sons can­not en­ter this im­por­tant fac­tory area.”

AP PHOTO

China La­bor Watch Ex­ec­u­tive Direc­tor Li Qiang is in­ter­viewed in his or­ga­ni­za­tion’s New York of­fice. Li is al­leg­ing labour abuses at a Chi­nese fac­tory that has made Ivanka Trump-branded shoes.

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