Chinese police detain activist probing an Ivanka Trump shoe factory

Undercover investigators who have reportedly found abuses at a factory that makes Ivanka Trump’s shoes were unreachable as of Saturday, with one of them detained by police on criminal suspicions, according to the New York-based nonprofit China Labor Watch.

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. Foxconn, which helps make iPhones, was accused of similar abuses in 2012

While one man was detained by police on suspicion of illegal eavesdropping, the other two investigators’ whereabouts are unknown. All three men were working undercover at Ganzhou Huajian International Shoe City Co.’s factory in Jiangxi province, just north of Guangdong province, which helps produce tens of thousands of Ivanka Trump shoes a year. 

After hundreds of investigations into Chinese factories, this was the first time any of China Labor Watch’s activists had been detained in a criminal case, the director of the group, Li Qiang, told the New York Times

White House spokeswoman Hope Hicks referred questions by an AP reporter to Ivanka Trump’s company, which declined to comment. Earlier this month, in response to some of China Labor Watch’s claims, Abigail Klem, president of the Ivanka Trump brand, told Bloomberg that the company requires licensees and their manufacturers to “comply with all applicable local and international labor laws and the legal and ethical practices set forth in our vendor code of conduct.” 

Pledges and requirements have not stemmed widespread abuses at Chinese factories, which have seen a surge in worker protests in recent years. Still, for some committed clothing companies, like those that Liz Segran wrote about last week, “made in China” doesn’t need to mean lower labor standards.

Speaking with Fast Company in October, Ivanka Trump commented on the lack of any parental leave at one of her company’s major licensing partners. “I do control my own business practices, and that’s why I’ve chosen to offer an industry-leading eight weeks of paid leave, but obviously I can’t control the practices of everyone in the universe I do business with.”

[Photo: Flickr user Jonathan Bowen]AP