Labor Activists Mysteriously Disappear while Investigating Ivanka Trump Sweatshops

Labor Activists Mysteriously Disappear while Investigating Ivanka Trump Sweatshops

Chinese Authorities Detain Labor Investigators Digging Into Ivanka Trump Brand

Three labor activists investigating factories that produce Ivanka Trump-brand clothes have been detained, and two of them have disappeared, according to an exclusive Associated Press report.

Related: EXCLUSIVE: Murky Chinese Money Trail Links House Oversight Chairman To Trumps

Three investigators for China Labor Watch, an NGO based in New York, were detained in China over the weekend. Family members and representatives of the organization have so far been unable to contact them.

China Labor Watch’s lead investigator, Hua Haifeng was arrested for “illegal surveillance.” His wife, Deng Guilian, told the AP that police contacted her on Tuesday to inform her that her husband is facing a two-year prison sentence. They told her “she didn’t need to know the details, only that she would not be able to see, speak with or receive money from her husband…”

Chinese authorities have not responded to China Labor Watch’s attempts to ask about the condition and location of two other investigators, Li Zhao and Su Heng.

The investigators were digging into the Huajian Group, a Chinese company that makes up to 20,000 Ivanka Trump-branded shoes a year when they were detained. The AP reported that the investigators planned to publish a report “alleging low pay, excessive overtime and possible misuse of student labor,” as well as eyewitness accounts of verbal abuse and degrading sexualized language directed at female workers.

On May 3rd, China Labor Watch published a report describing 2016 as a “Year of Regression” for labor rights in China. Undercover investigators described a variety of abuses, including confiscating worker IDs, and withholding wages at several of the biggest factory sites in China. This damning report came out amidst a widespread crackdown on thousands of foreign NGOs working in China. Under new regulations, foreign organizations are required to register with security forces. The investigators may have become targets both because of their report, and because the Trump family has leveraged diplomatic power to seek new branding and merchandising rights in China.

The Democratic National Committee responded to the AP’s report in a statement calling on Ivanka Trump brand to cut ties with Huajian Group, the Washington Examiner reported,

“For years, Ivanka Trump has ignored public reports of awful labor conditions at a factory that makes her shoes,” said Adrienne Watson, the Democratic National Committee’s deputy communications director, in a statement.

“Now, she must decide whether she can ignore the Chinese government’s apparent attempt to silence an investigation into those worker abuses,” Watson continued. “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.”

The AP tried to get a statement from Chinese state officials, but their requests were ignored. Similarly, the AP was given the runaround by the White House and the Ivanka Trump brand,

“White House spokeswoman Hope Hicks referred questions to Ivanka Trump’s brand. The Ivanka Trump brand declined to comment.”

This story should be of great concern to Americans for two related alarming reasons.

First, the blurring of lines between Trump family, the White House, and Trump-related businesses continues unabated. That descent into violating the spirit of the emoluments clause and regulations against graft and nepotism, has no apparent bottom. The corruption will only continue to snowball. And as it gets increasingly entangled in the interests of a foreign, authoritarian country, Trump will be increasingly tempted to sell out American interests in exchange for his own family’s personal benefit.

Second, Donald Trump ran on an authoritarian platform. So far, the courts and a burgeoning grassroots movement have managed to contain his worst impulses. But he has only been in office for 4 months, and although American institutions have not fundamentally changed, we are beginning to see that authoritarian governments are reassessing what they can get away with.

Hours after Egyptian strongman Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was photographed holding his hands over a glowing orb alongside Trump, who called him a “fantastic guy,” Sisi launched a ruthless crackdown of aid and civil society organizations. The White House ignoring that, and not criticizing China for arresting American-based labor investigators sends a profoundly chilling message. Without a strong US State Department calling foul on such abuses, authoritarian regimes are going to start rampant violations against human rights.

That is abhorrent in and of itself, but it could both normalize authoritarian behavior generally, and create an alliance of authoritarians that gives Trump more diplomatic space to pressure American institutions harder. If he can’t beat the courts fairly, maybe he can make friends with a bunch of strongmen who did it to their countries, and get their help. Trump’s big blind eye to human rights is about to weaken democracy worldwide in a way that could strengthen his or a successor authoritarian leader’s hand in America.

Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

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Marc Belisle is the Reverb Press World Affairs Editor. He is a writer, activist and teacher. He has a Master’s degree in International Conflict Analysis from the Brussels School of International Studies. READ MORE BY MARC.