Men probing Ivanka Trump supplier in China arrested, missing

Hua Haifeng, who was working undercover with the two other men in Jiangxi province, has been held by police and accused of illegally using a wiretapping device, China Labor Watch director Li Qiang told AFP.

"In 17 years (since our organisation was founded), we have done countless such investigations and have never had any problems", Li said, noting that he suspects the reprisal may be related to the brand they were investigating.

Hua had been investigating a vocational school in Jiangxi affiliated with the parent company of the factories when he was arrested. "But now it has become more political".

During their final phone conversation on Saturday, Hua told Li that police had made the unprecedented move of asking him to stop investigating the Huajian factory.

In January, Liu Shiyuan, then spokesman for the Huajian Group, told AP the company makes 10,000 to 20,000 pairs of shoes a year for Ivanka Trump's brand - a fraction of the 20 million pairs the company produces a year.

White House spokeswoman Hope Hicks referred questions 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 worldwide labor laws and the legal and ethical practices set forth in our vendor code of conduct".

Other clothing brands did not immediately respond to BuzzFeed News' request for comment Tuesday.

Hua had worked for labour rights organisations for more than a decade and was investigating a factory in southern Guangdong province for New York-based rights group China Labor Watch.

In a letter sent to Ivanka Trump in April, the group alleged a number of labour violations at two unnamed factories that supplies the Ivanka Trump brand, including that employees were forced to work at least 12-1/2 hours a day for wages below China's legal minimum - a monthly salary equivalent to about one USA dollar an hour.

"It is the role of the police to prevent that kind of independent investigation", said Nicholas Bequelin, East Asia director for Amnesty International. The two other men, Li Zhao and Su Heng are missing. As Mic reported in April, Trump's business' trademark applications in the country were serendipitously approved by the Chinese government the same day she dined with Chinese President Xi Jinping at her father's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. However, an investigation by Project Just, a consumer advocacy and research organization, was unable to find a code of ethics or human rights policies for the company.

In a statement to BuzzFeed News, a spokesperson for Mark Fisher said "we were unaware of the allegations and will look into them immediately". Su Heng had been working undercover at the Ganzhou factory since April, Li said.

Hua's wife, Deng, meanwhile, has yet to tell the couple's children, ages 3 and 7, about their father's plight. "That factory manufactures U.S. president's daughter's product", she said.

"My son suddenly burst into tears". But she said she had received a phone call from the Public Security Bureau in Ganzhou on Monday saying he had been detained on suspicion of "illegal monitoring". "I said Papa would come home soon and buy you toys".

  • Leroy Wright