China activist probing firm linked to Ivanka held

Workers at the Huajian shoe factory, a supplier for Ms Ivanka Trump's line of shoes, in Dongguan, as seen last December. Activist Hua Haifeng has been held by police and accused of illegally using eavesdropping equipment.
Workers at the Huajian shoe factory, a supplier for Ms Ivanka Trump's line of shoes, in Dongguan, as seen last December. Activist Hua Haifeng has been held by police and accused of illegally using eavesdropping equipment.PHOTO: NYTIMES

BEIJING • An activist investigating working conditions at a supplier for Ms Ivanka Trump's fashion brand in China has been detained, a non-governmental organisation said yesterday, putting a fresh spotlight on Chinese business activities linked to the American presidential family.

Two other men working on the investigation have been missing since Sunday, according to China Labor Watch, a New York-based NGO.

"In 17 years (since our organisation was founded), we have done countless such investigations and have never had any problems," said the group's director, Mr Li Qiang.

"But this is the first time we've investigated Ivanka Trump (manufacturers), so it may very well be related to the brand."

Ms Trump is US President Donald Trump's daughter and a White House adviser, whose fashion brand sells clothing, footwear and accessories. Mr Trump lambasted Beijing over its trade practices during the US presidential campaign, but he has established a friendly rapport with President Xi Jinping since they met at the US leader's Mar-a-Lago resort.

"We appeal to President Trump, Ivanka Trump herself and to her related brand company to advocate and press for the release of our activists," Mr Li said.

Mr Hua Haifeng, 36, has been held by police and accused of illegally using "eavesdropping equipment", said Mr Li, who rejected the accusation. The father of two was working undercover with the two other men, Mr Li Zhao and Mr Su Heng, in Jiangxi province.

Amnesty International said Mr Hua was detained by mainland police last week after he tried to travel to Hong Kong to publicise the findings of his investigation.

Madam Deng Guilian, Mr Hua's wife, said he had planned to return to their home for a holiday earlier this week. She said she was notified of his arrest, but not where he was being held, in a phone call from a Jiangxi public security bureau.

Amnesty International said Mr Hua was detained by mainland police last week after he tried to travel to Hong Kong to publicise the findings of his investigation. "The trio appear to be the latest to fall foul of the Chinese authorities' aggressive campaign against human rights activists who have any ties to overseas organisations, using the (pretext) of national security," said Mr William Nee, China researcher at the human rights group.

Mr Li said the activists were probing two factories owned by major footwear producer Huajian Group. They discovered that employees were required to work overtime while being paid less than the minimum wage, added Mr Li, who alleged that the factory issued fake pay slips that showed wages greater than the workers' actual compensation.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said at a regular press briefing she was "not aware" of the arrest. But in general, she said, "we also hope that NGOs can also observe China's laws and not engage in any illegal activities".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 01, 2017, with the headline 'China activist probing firm linked to Ivanka held'. Print Edition | Subscribe