Activist Detained at Trump-tied Factory Speaks Out

Three labor activists working undercover at factories that supply shoes to Ivanka Trump’s fashion brand were criminally detained in May on allegations of using illegal surveillance equipment, and released on bail late last month after four weeks in detention. The investigation, commissioned by New York-based China Labor Watch, reportedly uncovered adverse working conditions including a lack of worker protections, wage theft, and regular verbal abuseIvanka Trump and executives at her brand have declined to comment on the case and allegations.

The activist detentions are believed to have been prompted by the fact that the brand was owned by the daughter of the President of the United States—China Labor Watch has conducted hundreds of similar operations, none of which resulted in criminal detention. Hua Haifeng, one of the formerly detained labor , yesterday spoke to media outlets for the first time since his release. In an interview with The Guardian’s Benjamin Haas, Hua states that he also believes that the Trump link motivated the criminal charges against him, and describes the conditions of his detention and interrogation:

“When I was first taken away by police, I couldn’t understand why I was being arrested,” said Hua, 36. “But once I was released and was reconnected to the outside world, I think it was probably because of the factory’s connection to Ivanka.”

“Before I arrived at the factory I didn’t even know Ivanka had a clothing brand. And it wasn’t until I was released I knew this brand was related to the daughter of the US president.”

[…] Hua was taken from his hotel in the south-eastern city of Ganzhou on 28 May, with Li and Su, activists working with the New York-based NGO China Labor Watch. The arrests were the first in the organisation’s 17-year history. Hua was interrogated for two days before being placed in a cell with about 20 other prisoners.

During a month of exhausting interrogations, police repeatedly asked Hua for the date and time of his arrival in the city, and details of what he had done at the factory.

[…] “Right now I’m just doing what the police tell me to do,” Hua said. “There’s a chance they won’t move forward with the case, and I hope if I do what they tell me this can all be over.” [Source]

More from Hua on his detention and on the device that his interrogators were most interested in, via The New York Times’ Keith Bradsher:

After he found a job at one of the factories in Dongguan, a city in southern China near Hong Kong, he learned the ultimate focus of their efforts: Ms. Trump’s brand. He said that the news made him resolve to be particularly thorough, but did not prompt him to worry that the case might be politically delicate.

“I thought President Trump was only doing the president’s job, and his daughter was only doing business,” he said.

[…] Mr. Hua said that he had decided during his four-week detention that he would speak to the news media after his release because he thought the public had a right to know about what he described as excessive work hours and other unfair or illegal labor practices at Huajian.

[…] Mr. Hua also said that a journalist had given him a wristwatch several years ago that could be used to record video, and added that the watch was a subject of repeated police questioning. But he said that he had never used it in any of his undercover work because the quality of the video was poor and the device’s battery life was extremely short.

He said that he had lent the watch to his fellow activist, Li Zhao, who also worked at the factory in Dongguan. Huajian International, which owns that factory and the one in Ganzhou, is a giant company that has manufactured shoes for the brand and many others. Mr. Li experimented briefly with the wristwatch but also concluded it was useless, Mr. Hua said. […] [Source]

Coverage of the case from Michelle Chen at The Nation summarizes the findings of the China Labor Watch investigation into the Huajian factories, noting that the operation wasn’t specifically targeting the Trump brand for political reasons, but in hope that the Trump link would bring wider attention to systemic labor violations in China:

 CLW’s investigation did not specifically target Trump’s brand; rather, the organization hopes its findings draw the public’s attention toward the systemic issues of structural abuse and exploitation across China’s apparel industry, and the complicity of Western fashion brands.

The dehumanizing treatment and lack of accountability—which researchers observed and documented with interviews and photography—led CLW to deem Huajian one of the worst workplaces they had ever encountered. None of the 20 brands known to have sourced their production at Huajian have directly responded to CLW’s queries, the group says, though some companies have issued tepid statements to the press, promising to investigate the claims.

Anecdotally, CLW says it has heard the factory eased up its work schedules since the scandal broke, and one aggrieved former worker said he was awarded some backpay. But outside inspectors and media apparently remain blocked from further investigating the factory. It is unclear whether the Trump brand’s previous pending orders have been canceled. [Source]