Chi­nese ac­tivist ques­tions ar­rest in Ivanka Trump fac­tory probe

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

La­bor ac­tivist Hua Haifeng had avoided le­gal trou­ble in his 14 years in­ves­ti­gat­ing com­pa­nies in China, but that changed af­ter he looked into a fac­tory that made shoes for Ivanka Trump’s brand. Hua and two col­leagues had worked un­der­cover in fac­to­ries that man­u­fac­tured shoes for the brand of US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s daugh­ter and other for­eign firms when they were de­tained in May. The 36-year-old ac­tivist and the two other men, who work for New York-based non-profit China La­bor Watch (CLW), were ac­cused of us­ing “spy­ing and other mon­i­tor­ing equip­ment”.

The gov­ern­ment has in­ten­si­fied a crack­down on hu­man rights ac­tivists and lawyers in re­cent years. But Hua said he be­lieves the fac­tory’s link to the Ivanka Trump brand may have been a “fac­tor that at­tracted po­lice in­ter­est”, though he can­not con­firm it. “As for Ms. Ivanka and her fam­ily, I want to say that busi­ness ac­tiv­i­ties should abide by busi­ness reg­u­la­tions, and not use a fam­ily’s po­lit­i­cal re­sources for per­sonal com­mer­cial gain,” said Hua. Hua, who was re­leased on bail in June along with his col­leagues, said he was in­ter­ro­gated on 16 oc­ca­sions for up to three hours at a time.

He was kept in a shared cell where he slept be­side a urine bucket. For the first week he was not given ac­cess to a lawyer, but the fa­ther of two said his con­di­tions grad­u­ally im­proved as his wife paid the au­thor­i­ties to give him bet­ter food. Li Qiang, CLW’s found­ing di­rec­tor, said the case marks the first time ac­tivists have faced po­lice trou­ble in the non-profit’s 17-year his­tory. “But this is the first time we’ve in­ves­ti­gated Ivanka Trump (sup­pli­ers), so it may very well be re­lated to the brand,” Li said.

Re­spect the law

The ac­tivists had been prob­ing two plants owned by ma­jor footwear pro­ducer Hua­jian Group-one in the city of Dong­guan in south­ern Guang­dong prov­ince, the other in south­ern Jiangxi prov­ince’s Ganzhou. A CLW state­ment al­leged that fac­tory em­ploy­ees worked 15-hour days with min­i­mal breaks and no over­time pay, among other la­bor abuses. Col­lec­tively, the in­ves­ti­ga­tors worked un­der­cover at the fac­to­ries for sev­eral weeks be­tween March and May.

Hua­jian Group did not re­spond to re­peated re­quests for com­ment, but it has pre­vi­ously de­nied the al­le­ga­tions. For her part, Ivanka Trump com­pany pres­i­dent Abi­gail Klem said in a state­ment: “Af­ter dis­cus­sions with our li­censee, we have de­ter­mined that Ivanka Trump brand prod­ucts have not been pro­duced at the fac­tory in ques­tion since March.” But CLW said they found the Ivanka Trump com­pany listed on Hua­jian’s pro­duc­tion sched­ules for May and June, along with sev­eral other prom­i­nent over­seas fash­ion brands.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tors’ ar­rest put a fresh spot­light on Chi­nese busi­ness ac­tiv­i­ties linked to the US pres­i­den­tial fam­ily. Ivanka Trump, who is a White House ad­vi­sor, has taken a for­mal leave of ab­sence from her fash­ion brand, an­nounc­ing in Jan­uary that she is no longer in­volved with the com­pany’s man­age­ment or day-to-day op­er­a­tions. Her hus­band, Jared Kush­ner, is also a top aide to the US pres­i­dent and his own fam­ily busi­ness has come un­der scru­tiny over its fi­nan­cial deal­ings in China. “I don’t know much about (Ivanka Trump’s) women’s fash­ion brand, but any com­pany or brand should re­spect the law and ful­fill their re­spon­si­bil­ity to­wards so­ci­ety,” Hua said. The ac­tivist said the po­lice in their ques­tion­ing had been fo­cused on a watch equipped with a cam­era, which was in a suit­case but had never been used. He said he only took cell­phone pho­tos of the pub­lic ar­eas sur­round­ing Dong­guan. Hua worked in one fac­tory for a day and was de­tained be­fore he could go to an­other one.

Hua and his fel­low in­ves­ti­ga­tors have not been of­fi­cially charged, nor has a trial date been set. Au­thor­i­ties said the case was still be­ing in­ves­ti­gated and de­clined to pro­vide ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion. Hua, back home in cen­tral Hubei prov­ince, vowed to never stop do­ing la­bor rights work. “China is the world’s fac­tory; our work­ers work for the en­tire world,” he said. “In the decades since eco­nomic re­form and open­ing up, the la­bor com­mu­nity has paid too much.” — AFP

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