Sunday, 25 June, 2017

Men probing Ivanka Trump supplier in China arrested, missing

Darrell Mcdonald | 02 June, 2017, 05:43

Deng Guilian, Hua's wife, told AFP her husband had planned to return to their home for a holiday earlier this week.

"I was scared when the police called me, I was shaking with a mix of fear and anger", Deng told the Guardian, adding she was anxious she would be unable to support their two young children as well as three elderly relatives without his income.

"Our plan was to investigate the factory to improve the labor situation", said China Labor Watch Executive Director Li Qiang.

Li Qiang told the AP he assumed the men were being held by either the factory or the police.

Ivanka Trump's lifestyle brand imports most of its merchandise from China, trade data show.

The three activists were investigating labor conditions at Huajian shoe factories for the New York-based nonprofit organization China Labor Watch that aims to defend workers' rights.

Mr Li said in 17 years of activism, including investigations on hundreds of factories in China, his group had never had anyone arrested on suspicion of having committed a crime.

China Labor Watch were initially planning on releasing a report highlighting allegations of miserable pay and unreasonable hours. "But now it has become more political".

The Chinese government has stepped up its clamping down on independent labor groups in recent years. China Labor Watch has also published reports on child labor at Samsung suppliers and spent years investigating Apple Inc.'s China factories.

Huajian Group owns the factory the men were investigating.

People connected to the Trump administration have repeatedly come under fire for business dealings in China.

White House spokeswoman Hope Hicks referred questions to Ivanka Trump's brand.

Trump's brand, in particular, has raised eyebrows in the past. Li added that a friend had tried to file a missing person report on Li Zhao in Jiangxi province, but was told he had to do so in the man's hometown. China's Ministry of Public Security and police in Ganzhou city and Jiangxi province could not be reached for comment Tuesday, which was a national holiday in China.

Activists were probing two factories owned by major footwear producer Huajian Group - one in the city of Dongguan in southern Guangdong province, the other in Jiangxi's Ganzhou. The other two activists were also unreachable, he said. The parent company is known as Huajian Group.

The Ivanka Trump brand declined to comment.

Activists are usually simply ejected from the factory, or in the worst case questioned by police before being set free.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular press briefing she was "not aware" of the arrest.

Analysts say China's government has not hesitated to avail itself of the back channel to the White House provided by Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner.

Li said Hua had been accused of using "eavesdropping equipment".

China Labor Watch said the men had already documented excessive overtime, with some working days stretching longer than 18 hours, and a base salary below minimum wage. They were also trying to confirm evidence suggesting violations of student intern law-that interns were being put to work on projects outside their field of study. "I feel his work is legal and meaningful, so why should they arrest him?"

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