In Depth

Activists investigating Ivanka Trump shoe factory are detained in China

One undercover investigator has been arrested by police and two others have disappeared

The US First Family is facing questions today over its commercial interests following news that three undercover activists investigating labour conditions at a factory that makes shoes for Ivanka Trump's label have either been arrested or disappeared. 

What were the activists investigating?

The activists work for China Labor Watch, a New York-based non-profit organisation that exposes poor working conditions. They had been working undercover at three shoe factories in China that belong to belong to Huajian International, one of the world's biggest shoe firms, says the New York Times.

The company produces around 100,000 pairs of shoes for the Ivanka Trump brand every year, from a total output of eight million pairs.

According to Associated Press, the three activists were due to publish a report next month claiming several labour violations at the factories, including pay below China's minimum wage, excessive overtime and possible misuse of student labour. 

When did they disappear?

Last Thursday activist Hua Haifeng, 36, left work and tried to travel to Hong Kong to meet journalists, including an NYT reporter.

But he was refused permission to leave mainland China and told to contact police. He fled to Ganzhou province the next day and disappeared afterwards.

Hua's wife said on Monday that he had been detained on suspicion of 'illegal monitoring'.

The two other activists, named Li Zhao and Su Heng, are also missing. They are believed to have been detained by police. 

Trump's China connection

China's ruling Communist Party has cracked down on threats to its stability, which has seen a stern approach to activism and to human rights campaigners.

Meanwhile, as The Guardian notes, Donald Trump "repeatedly bashed China for taking American jobs on the campaign trial but has since cosied up to President Xi Jinping".

That friendship has led to the US President being granted more than 75 trademarks in China since becoming president.

Pressure on Ivanka

Nicholas Bequelin, East Asia director for Amnesty International, says the "eagerness of members of [the Trump family] to do business in China while airbrushing very troubling human rights and labour rights records is troubling".

Adrienne Watson, spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee, called on Ivanka Trump's brand to immediately cease working with the supplier and decide "whether she can ignore the Chinese government's apparent attempt to silence an investigation into those worker abuses".

The Ivanka Trump brand has declined to comment and the White House has yet to comment.

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