In what journalist Naomi Klein characterized as "serious emolument news," a labor rights advocate says he believes he was detained by the Chinese government because a factory he was investigating for labor abuses produces shoes for Ivanka Trump's brand.
In an interview with the The Guardian, the Chinese activist, Hua Haifeng, spoke publicly for the first time since his detention:
"When I was first taken away by police, I couldn't understand why I was being arrested," said Hua, 36. "But once I was released and was reconnected to the outside world, I think it was probably because of the factory's connection to Ivanka."
"Before I arrived at the factory I didn't even know Ivanka had a clothing brand. And it wasn't until I was released I knew this brand was related to the daughter of the U.S. president."
Hua and two other activists with China Labor Watch, an NYC-based nonprofit group, were taken into Chinese police custody in late May. The group described the Huajian factory as "the worst among the dozens of factories we have investigated over the past year," documenting brutal verbal abuse, 15-hour workdays, and rampant wage theft. (The report echoes findings from a Guardian investigation of factory in Indonesia that is also a supplier for Ivanka Trump's label.)
After enduring a month of grueling interrogations by Chinese police, Hua was released on bail late last month, but now faces charges for using illegal surveillance equipment—specifically, a watch with a hidden camera that he used to document labor abuses at Huajian factory.
Hua has been a labor rights advocate since 2003 and told the newspaper that although he has investigated dozens of factories, this is his first arrest. It's also the first time any China Labor Watch investigators have been arrested by police, despite conducting investigations at hundreds of factories over the past 17 years, the group's executive director told Vox in May.
China Labor Watch recently shared a translated testimony from Hua's wife about being monitored and interrogated by the police; the group claims the Chinese government has blocked access to her article, "My husband is arrested for investigating Ivanka Trump’s supplier factory, and I become the main monitored subject."
The group also sent a letter and footage captured during in the investigation to Ivanka. Ivanka—who took a leave of absence but did not divest from the brand, so she could take an unpaid position at the White House—has not publicly commented, but brand president Abigail Klem told The Guardian: "Ivanka Trump HQ is committed to only working with licensees who maintain internationally recognized labor standards across their supply chains."
The first daughter has encountered intense criticism beyond the alleged human rights abuses tied to her fashion line. She currently holds an expansive role as an adviser to her father, President Donald Trump, while her husband, Jared Kushner, also serves as a White House adviser. Since Trump took office in January, Ivanka has raised eyebrows and stirred ethics concerns on numerous occasions, including when she: dined beside Chinese President Xi Jinping; spoke on a panel in Berlin with female global business leaders; and, most recently, sat in for Donald at a G20 meeting.
Writing about the factory report and its ties to the Trump family, labor rights journalist Michelle Chen notes in The Nation:
So Huajian remains one of many hidden undersides of the Trump family empire. Though the allegations of labor abuse are endemic and not unique to Trump's brand, the President's name is indelibly linked to allegations of massive labor abuse, along with the violent suppression of advocates who are giving Western brands the wrong kind of publicity….
Meanwhile, the Trump administration has denounced China's human-rights record and showcased Ivanka as a champion of human and women's rights.