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Workers at Chinese factory making Ivanka Trump shoes allege abuse

Workers at Chinese factory making Ivanka Trump shoes allege abuse
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The factory of Ganzhou Huajian International Shoe City Co., which has made shoes for the Ivanka Trump brand, in Ganzhou in southern China s Jiangxi Province, is seen in this file photo from June 18. One current and two former Huajian employees said they ve faced 16-hour days, steep production quotas and verbal abuse on the job.  (Andy Wong / AP)  

Wed., June 28, 2017

GANZHOU, CHINA—A worker with blood dripping from his head marked a low point in the tense, grinding life at a southeastern China factory used by Ivanka Trump and other fashion brands. An angry manager had hit him with the sharp end of a high-heeled shoe.

“He was bleeding right from the middle of the head,” the current worker said.

“There was a lot of blood. He went to the factory’s nurse station, passing by me,” said a second man, who said he quit his job at Huajian because of the long hours and low pay.

The three workers are the first people with direct knowledge of conditions at the Ganzhou factory to speak with the media. All three spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity, for fear of retribution or arrest.

On Wednesday, Chinese authorities released on bail three activists who had been detained after investigating labour conditions at the Huajian Group factory in Ganzhou that produced shoes for Ivanka Trump and other brands.

The three activists walked out of a police station in Ganzhou, a city in southeastern Jiangxi province, on Wednesday, the final day of their legally mandated 30-day detention period limit.

One of the activists, Hua Haifeng, carried his 3-year-old son in his arms as he walked out with his wife and other family members.

Hua declined further comment but said he had not been mistreated. People released in politically sensitive cases tend to have conditions attached to their release that restrict them from speaking to the media.

Hua and his colleagues at the labour group were preparing to publish a report alleging low pay, excessive overtime, crude verbal abuse and possible misuse of student labour at Huajian Group factories.

The company has denied allegations of excessive overtime and low wages. It says it stopped producing Ivanka Trump shoes months ago.

The activists disappeared or were detained in late May. The labour group said two were taken away from a hotel room while the third was detained by customs officials in the southern city of Shenzhen while en route to Hong Kong.

In comments to the AP, the Huajian Group declined to respond to specific questions, but broadly denied all allegations, calling them “completely not true to the facts, taken out of context, exaggerated.”

From left to right: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, IIvanka Trump, and Alika Kinan, of Argentina, attend a 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report ceremony, on Tuesday at the State Department in Washington. Ivanka has not commented on the detentions or the reports of poor working conditions at one of her brand’s suppliers.  (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)  

The company noted its significant contribution to the economy and to society, particularly through its employment of disabled people.

Before taking on an official role as adviser to her father, Ivanka Trump stepped back from day-to-day management of her brand, but she has retained her ownership interest.

In Washington on Tuesday, she spoke at a ceremony unveiling the annual U.S. Trafficking in Persons Report, in which China was demoted to the lowest ranking over its human trafficking record. She said the report is “clarion call into action in defence of the vulnerable and the exploited.”

She has not commented, however, on the detentions or the reports of poor working conditions at one of her brand’s suppliers. Her spokesperson declined to comment for this story.

The group said it also sent Ivanka Trump a video taken inside the factory in May. That video included a clip in which a manager threatened to rough up a worker who had apparently arranged shoes in the wrong order.

“If I see them f---ing messed up again,” the manager yells, “I’ll beat you right here.”

Marc Fisher, which has made shoes for Ivanka Trump and Easy Spirit at the Ganzhou factory, has said it would look into the allegations.

The current Huajian employee who spoke to the AP said life at the factory has changed since the arrests of the three investigators brought the glare of public attention.

Overtime was radically reduced this month, he said. Shifts used to run from 7:10 a.m. until after 9 p.m. or 10 p.m., and sometimes after midnight, with two daily breaks, he and a former employee both said. But for the last few weeks, workers have been released before 7 p.m.

City government officials turned up recently, he said, and the factory gave everyone an egg to eat in the middle of their afternoon shift.

Those who miss their targets do not collect the full salary, said the current employee.

“It is impossible to meet the target, actually, because it just keeps on going up,” the former employee said.

The new abbreviated working hours are a mixed blessing, the current employee said, because they haven’t been able to meet production targets.

Huajian, meanwhile, has been moving production to Ethiopia, where workers make around $100 (U.S.) a month, a fraction of what they pay in China, according to Song Yiping, a manager at Huajian’s Ethiopian factory, who spoke to the AP in January. He said he’s heard U.S. President Donald Trump talk about bringing jobs back to America, but he doubts that will happen with shoes. Even Chinese vocational school dropouts don’t want to work for Ethiopian wages.

“The American clients push down the price,” Song explained. “Consumers want to buy cheaper shoes.”
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