Chinese firm behind Ivanka Trump-brand shoes hits back in missing activists row

Chinese firm behind Ivanka Trump-brand shoes hits back in missing activists row
Ivanka Trump. Picture: AP

A Chinese company that made shoes for Ivanka Trump has denied allegations of excessive overtime and low wages made by three activists who have been arrested or disappeared.

Associated Press reports earlier this week said Hua Haifeng, an investigator for China Labour Watch, a New York-based non-profit organisation, had been arrested on a charge of illegal surveillance, while two colleagues - Li Zhao and Su Heng - are missing and rights groups fear they have been detained.

They were investigating Huajian Group factories in the southern Chinese cities of Ganzhou and Dongguan.

Long Shan, a spokeswoman for Huajian Group, said: "We are shocked. As a renowned global media outlet, you have put out many untrue reports not based on facts and without our consent."

China Labour Watch executive director Li Qiang said he had not been able to confirm the status of the two missing men.

Ms Long said the company stopped producing Ivanka Trump shoes months ago.

She said Hua Haifeng joined the group's factory in Dongguan on May 20, but left after less than a week, and Su Heng began working at the Ganzhou factory on April 28, but also left after a short time.

She said she did not know their current whereabouts.

"By coming to Huajian to work, they are Huajian employees. Huajian staff must comply with China's laws and regulations and Huajian's rules," she said, adding that at least one of the men "used methods like taking photographs and video to obtain the company's trade secrets, which is not in line with the company's regulations. Our company has the right to hold him accountable".

She said reports of managers verbally abusing workers, including insults and a crude reference in Chinese to female genitalia, were based on misunderstanding: "It is the local dialect being used as management language."

She said Huajian was looking into allegations of improper use of student interns.

Ms Trump's brand declined to comment on the allegations or the arrest and disappearances. Marc Fisher, which produces shoes for Ivanka Trump and other brands, said it was looking into the allegations.

China Labour Watch has been exposing poor working conditions at suppliers to some of the world's best-known companies for nearly two decades, but Mr Li said his work has never before attracted this level of scrutiny from China's state security apparatus.

The arrest and disappearances come amid a crackdown on perceived threats to the stability of China's ruling Communist Party, particularly from sources with foreign ties such as China Labour Watch.

Faced with rising labour unrest and a slowing economy, Beijing has taken a stern approach to activism in southern China's manufacturing belt and to human rights advocates generally, sparking a wave of critical reports about disappearances, public confessions, forced repatriation and torture in custody.

- AP

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