Chinese authorities have arrested an undercover activist who was investigating alleged labor violations at a factory that makes Ivanka Trump shoes, and two other investigators are currently missing. The detentions underscore concerns that Trump family businesses could be receiving special treatment as Beijing hopes to curry favor with the U.S. president.
The three men, affiliated with China Labor Watch, a non-profit advocacy organization based in New York, had gone undercover to work at factories in southern China operated by the Huajian Group, which produces thousands of pairs of Trump-branded shoes. According to China Labor Watch’s executive director Li Qiang, the investigators had found several violations, including that the company paid workers less than China’s minimum wage. He said the group would soon release a report.
Ivanka Trump knew of the investigation before the activists were detained. On April 27, China Labor Watch sent her a letter informing her of the violations and asking her to make sure that the factories made improvements. But conditions at the factory remained the same, Li said.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has relentlessly clamped down on activism and civil society groups since he came to power in late 2012. But China Labor Watch, which has conducted investigations at Chinese factories for 17 years, said this the first time that its investigators have been detained.
To Li, that suggests that political calculus was at play.
“I think they were detained because this factory makes products for Ivanka Trump, so now this situation has become political and very complicated,” said Li. “I appeal to President Trump, Ivanka Trump herself, and to her brand to advocate and press for the release our activists.”
Ivanka Trump has yet to comment.
The arrest and disappearances have led Democrats to renew their criticism of Trump family enterprises in China.
“Ivanka’s brand should immediately cease its work with this supplier, and the Trump administration should reverse its current course and confront China on its human rights abuses,” Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Adrienne Watson wrote in an email to the Associated Press. Watson also wrote that Ivanka Trump must determine whether or not she will “ignore the Chinese government’s apparent attempt to silence an investigation into those worker abuses.”
This isn’t the first time that Trump-linked commercial interests in China have faced scrutiny for appearing to benefit from political ties. In March, President Trump won approval for dozens of trademarks in China, where it is notoriously difficult for foreign companies to protect their brand names. In early May, Jared Kushner’s sister Nicole Kushner Meyer appeared at an event in Beijing where she pushed Kushner properties and appeared to suggest that, with the family’s connections to the Trump White House, she could guarantee U.S. visas for wealthy Chinese who invest in Kushner real estate.
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