BEIJING • Three labour activists in China who scrutinised a company making Ivanka Trump-brand shoes are being investigated on suspicion of providing industrial secrets to a foreign organisation for money, said state media yesterday.
China on Tuesday rejected the US State Department's call for the release of the activists, saying they were being investigated on suspicion of interfering with a company's "normal operation and production activities" and the illegal use of "professional surveillance equipment".
The Paper, a publication backed by the Shanghai city government, reported that police had found the three activists got into "a certain factory" in Ganzhou city by applying for jobs there, after "receiving another person's prompting".
"They used specially bought hidden camera watches, professionally gathered internal documents on the factories' production, hiring and salary standards as well as other industrial secrets, furthermore supplying these to relevant overseas organisations, with the purpose of obtaining funding support," The Paper cited police as saying.
Neither the newspaper nor the Foreign Ministry identified the factory, nor did they mention any link to the Ivanka Trump brand, but the US-based China Labour Watch organisation said the three men - Li Zhao, Su Heng and Hua Haifeng - had been looking into conditions at factories that produce shoes for the daughter of US President Donald Trump and other Western brands.
The newspaper said Mr Su and others admitted to using job applications to "infiltrate" factories across China to provide pictures of production to foreign organisations since 2010. The authorities have not said what charges the three might face but the paper said they were held on the charge of illegally using hidden recording and filming devices.
Ms Hua Chunying, spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said on Tuesday that the case would be handled in accordance with the law and no country had the right to interfere in the judicial process.
On Monday, a spokesman for the US State Department said labour activists help US firms understand conditions in their China supply chains, "which can be essential in fulfilling their own responsibilities and holding Chinese manufacturers accountable under Chinese labour laws".
Ms Deng Guilian, the wife of Mr Hua, told Reuters she was not aware of the specifics of the case, though she said her husband had told her he was not being mistreated.
China Labour Watch said Mr Hua and Mr Li had worked covertly at a shoe factory owned by the Huajian Group in the city of Dongguan. Mr Su had worked at a related factory in Ganzhou, the group said.
Both factories produced Ivanka Trump-brand shoes, said China Labour Watch. The investigators discovered evidence that workers' rights had been violated, it said.
The Ivanka Trump brand, the White House and Ms Trump's lawyer Jamie Gorelick did not respond to requests for comment on the case.