Beijing confirmed Tuesday that Chinese authorities have detained labor rights activists investigating Ivanka Trump’s shoes factories.
China Labor Watch revealed last month that one of their activists had been arrested and two were missing. All three individuals had been involved in a probe of the conditions at the factories producing Ivanka Trump-branded shoes.
Hua Haifeng and Li Zhao worked undercover at the main Huajian shoe factory in Dongguan, Guangdong while Su Heng investigated another Huajian factory in Ganzhou, Jiangxi. The factory in Dongguan, which has around 5,000 employees, produces the heels for shoes that are then assembled in Ganzhou, at a factory with roughly 3,000 employees, according to The New York Times. The preliminary findings of the three activists suggested that the rights of the factory workers had been violated.
Li Qiang, who founded China Labor Watch almost two decades ago, said that this is the first time out of hundreds of operations any of his activists have been arrested for a criminal offense. The company has previously investigated factories producing Apple and Samsung products.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Tuesday that the three labor rights activists had interfered with a Chinese company’s “normal operation and production activities” and illegally used “professional surveillance equipment,” according to a report from Reuters.
The U.S. Department of State has called on China to release the detained activists.
“We urge China to release them immediately and otherwise afford them the judicial and fair trial protections to which they are entitled,” said State Department spokeswoman Alicia Edwards, adding that labor activists play an important role in helping American companies understand the conditions of factories in their supply chains, “which can be essential in fulfilling their own responsibilities and holding Chinese manufacturers accountable under Chinese labor laws.”
China has dismissed the demands of the State Department, claiming that the case is being handled in accordance with the law and no country has the right to get involved.
The Ivanka Trump brand, the White House, and Ivanka Trump’s lawyer have reportedly not yet responded to media requests for comment on the current situation.
The case comes at a time when observers are watching carefully the ties between China and the president’s family. President Donald Trump’s brand secured over 75 trademarks in China in May. Earlier last month, Nicole Kushner Meyer, Jared Kushner’s sister, tried to lure Chinese businessmen to invest in a family real estate project with promises of immigration visas. At the same time, the Kushner family business is reportedly searching for $250 million to pay off Chinese investors. Some observers are concerned about conflicts of interest, but there has not yet been any evidence of wrongdoing.
The arrests also come as China is stepping up its efforts to counter human rights and labor activists.
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