Chinese police are cracking down on labor activists attempting to expose sweatshop-like working conditions at a local factory that manufactures shoes for Ivanka Trump's label. One activist working on the campaign has been detained, while two others have disppeared, and are presumably in police custody, according to Western media reports.
Hua Haifeng, Li Zhao and Su Heng, who were working undercover under the direction of New York-based workers' rights organization China Labor Watch, have been unreachable by phone over the weekend, Li Qiang, the founder of the advocacy group, told Bloomberg. The three men had been investigating labor conditions at factories that produce shoes for Ivanka Trump’s brand and other Western brands. A picture of Zhao, published in the WaPo, can be seen below:
Local police contacted Hua’s wife by phone Tuesday afternoon and told her that he’d been detained for “illegal eavesdropping,” Bloomberg reported.
The factory, operated by shoe manufacturer Huajian Group and located in the southeast province of Jiangxi, is one of 15 that supposedly makes shoes for the brand founded by President Donald Trump’s eldest daughter, Bloomberg reported. In a letter sent to Ivanka Trump in April, the group alleged several labor violations at two of these factories, including that employees were forced to work at least 12 1/2 hours a day for wages below China’s legal minimum, a pay rate equal to about $1 an hour, Bloomberg said.
The arrest and disappearances come at a time of sustained pressure on labor activists in China amid a crackdown on civil society under President Xi Jinping, Reuters reported.
In 17 years of activism, including investigations of hundreds of factories in China, no member of Li’s group has ever been arrested for suspicion of having committed a crime, Li told Reuters. He also told The Washington Post that having three people detained was “rare.”
"This is the first time we've come across this kind of situation," he told Reuters, adding the accusation against Hua had "no factual basis".
Amnesty International called for the three to be released if they were being held only for investigating possible labor abuses at the factories.
"Activists exposing potential human rights abuses deserve protection not persecution," Amnesty’s China researcher, William Nee, told Reuters.
Huajian has previously said it has been making shoes for the U.S. president’s daughter for nearly a decade, accounting for one-third of her shoes made in China – though her shoes account for only a small portion of the company’s total output, according to WaPo.
The effort has been under intense police scrutiny for months, according to China Labor Watch. Two of the activists were told they were not allowed to leave China in April and May, Li said, a request he characterized as “relatively common,” according to WaPo.
The Daily Beast reported that Ivanka-branded shoes were being produced at the factory back in December, when the media organization published a photoessay documenting its working conditions. Some of these photos can be seen below:
The crackdown on the labor activists follows a public détente between President Trump and China. The former has dropped his protectionist rhetoric and praised China’s leader, Xi Jinping, for offering to work with the US on helping to curb North Korea’s nuclear ambition.
However, escalating tensions related to China’s buildup of artificial reefs in disputed waters in the South China Sea, have recently led to a series of uncomfortable encounters between Chinese fighter jets and the US military. Last week, two Chinese jets attempted to “intercept” a US military surveillance plane flying near Hong Kong, with one jet reportedly coming within 200 yards of the US aircraft.