Ivanka Trump has apparently dazzled the women of the People’s Republic with her first-daughter charm offensive: Chinese women admire her as the quintessential American power mom, even as Trump Senior trades twitter barbs with President “Daddy Xi” in Beijing. But while Ivanka markets her new guide to success for “Women Who Work,” the women working for her in China, producing slippers for her elite apparel brand, face a work-life balance that smacks more of Oliver Twist than Lean In.
Earlier this year, the US-based China Labor Watch (CLW) rubbed some of the gloss off the heavily marketed, obsessively scrutinized Ivanka brand when a team of undercover investigators infiltrated the facilities of a supplier to Ivanka’s shoe brand, Huajian, in Guangdong and Jiangxi Provinces. They uncovered shocking brutality, including evidence of wage theft and forced labor, with nonstop production shifts that lasted well over the legal standard.
Some employees were reportedly “tricked into the factory with inaccurate recruiting advertisements.” Intense production quotas required an amount of labor that was said to be physically impossible to meet even with overtime; work hours ran up to 15 hours per day, and managers often shorted workers on pay for forced overtime hours. Under the May production schedule—which CLW says included orders from Trump’s company—workers reportedly “worked for over 350 hours” with only two holidays off.
If fatigued workers tried to request extra rest time, CLW claims, “the management would decline their request and use large order volumes as an excuse.” Those too exhausted to continue often ended up getting fired just for incurring three unexcused absences, which the management evidently considered “voluntarily terminat[ing] their employment, in which case no pay or compensation would be given.” The payment schedule was also stalled for weeks, so a worker who quit might have to forgo their last month’s wages.
Investigators observed that women workers faced more aggressive wage theft and penalties than male colleagues. Additionally, student apprentices were misclassified as regular workers and pressed into excessive, underpaid shift work. Even by China’s standards, the labor conditions were wildly out of step with the luxurious image of the brands known to contract with Huajian, including Guess and Marc Fisher—high-end labels that claim to follow high corporate-ethics standards—and the signature label of a presidential daughter and global feminist figurehead.