Labor rights activists say the case of three activists in China helps to direct attention on the country’s labor abuses and lack of enforcement of labor laws.
Chinese officials detained the three for trying to investigate a factory that manufactures Ivanka Trump-brand shoes.
Rights activists said Ivanka Trump could help change the labor culture in China if she speaks up about the case. Trump is the daughter of American President Donald Trump. She is also his assistant.
The Ivanka Trump brand has yet to comment on the arrests. But the company confirms that shoes for the brand were made at the factory. The company said its last order was placed in March 2017.
Rights activists are pressuring the Chinese government to give labor activists and investigators more power to uncover labor rights violations.
The government has refused to release the three activists. It accuses them of using “illegal monitoring devices” and “interfering in the company’s normal operation and production activities.”
The activists work for China Labor Watch, or CLW. The non-profit group has carried out similar investigations at Chinese factories for years. It said the government’s reaction to the investigation at the factory making Ivanka Trump shoes is the strongest in its 17-year existence.
Li Qiang is the founder and head of CLW. He said he has pictures and videos that show Trump’s shoes have been made in factories owned by the Huajian Group for the past four years. He says labor abuses were reportedly uncovered at those factories.
“We can prove that her products were manufactured in the factories and that many workers have been underpaid or forced to work overtime as well as a slew of labor abuses,” Li told VOA.
The detained CLW rights activists are Hua Haifeng, Li Zhao and Su Heng. They worked in the Huajian factories between March and May, before their detention by Chinese police.
In Li's words, “The brand has repeatedly boasted in overseas markets that their products comply with [strict] regulations.”
“But now its advertising looks false." So, Li said, "[Trump] has to speak up [against the arrest of investigators] and shoulder some responsibility for the [Chinese] manufacturer’s violations of labor rights.”
Li noted that labor costs are responsible for only one percent of the price of Ivanka Trump’s branded shoes, which sell for more than $100 in U.S. stores.
Li said he has sent evidence to Trump and the U.S. State Department. He also said he expects her to call for the release of his investigators and to pressure the factories where her shoes are made to improve working conditions.
Last week, the State Department called for the release of the activists and for China to give them a fair trial.
The State Department also noted the work of labor activists in helping American companies understand conditions in Chinese factories.
One industry expert told VOA that suppliers of costly goods can easily lose orders if they fail to meet requirements set by American companies. But the expert said that violations of workers' rights can be easily found in small- and medium-sized Chinese suppliers. The source added that the companies are dealing with strong competitors and must keep costs low.
Keegan Elmer is a researcher at the Hong Kong-based China Labor Bulletin. He says labor violations happen throughout China.
“It’s not just global brands. And it’s not just little tiny sweatshops. It’s really quite pervasive and it’s something that’s the nature of work in China these days,” Elmer said.
He said the group’s Strike Map http://maps.clb.org.hk/strikes/en# shows that there are thousands of worker strikes every year in China. The strikes are not limited to smaller businesses, Elmer noted.
He said labor activists risk being jailed even if they have obeyed the law and followed the rules required to report labor violations.
Elmer said industries and the Chinese government need to create a process that lets workers report abuses and help improve working conditions in China.
I’m Caty Weaver.
Joyce Huang reported this story for VOANews.com. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted her report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
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Words in This Story
brand – n. a category of products that are all made by a particular company and all have a particular name
monitor – v. to watch, observe, listen to or check (something) for a special purpose over a period of time
device – n. an object, machine or piece of equipment that has been made for some special purpose
overtime – n. time spent working at your job that is in addition to your normal working hours
slew – n. (informal) a large number of people or things
boast – v. to express too much pride in yourself or in something you have, have done or are connected to in some way
shoulder – v. to deal with or accept (something) as your responsibility or duty
sweatshop – n. a place where people work long hours for low pay in poor conditions
pervasive – adj. existing in every part of something; spreading to all parts of something