Chinese authorities have released on bail three activists who had been detained after investigating labor conditions at a factory that produced shoes for the Ivanka Trump brand and other U.S. footwear labels, the Associated Press reports.
The three activists, who were working with New-York based advocacy group China Labor Watch, today walked out of a police station in Ganzhou, a city in southeastern Jiangxi province, the final day of their legally mandated 30-day detention period limit, according to AP.
The release of the activists comes weeks after reports surfaced that the three men had gone missing following their attempts to investigate several factories run by Chinese shoe manufacturer Huajian Group. Eventually, the activists were presumed detained by the Chinese government, prompting the U.S. State Department to step in and formally call for their release — a request that Chinese officials dismissed at the time.
In a report dated June 21, China Labor Watch described a list of unethical behaviors that it said the activists — who went undercover at factories run by Huajian Group in April — observed at Huajian’s factory in Jiangxi.
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“Huajian is not just another plant in China bending the rules. Its abuses are severe. When our investigation was ongoing, employees at Huajian started work at 7:10 a.m. and usually finished at 10 p.m., putting in 15 hours a day, with only two days off in a month,” the report states. “We were told by workers that they were frequently verbally abused by the management … Language discriminatory and insulting to female workers was also used. Some workers said that they had even been hit by management.”
(According to China Labor Watch, the factory in question has also produced footwear for Nine West, Vince Camuto, Easy Spirit, Naturalizer, Marc Fisher, Guess and other brands.)
The organization said that among the factory’s other alleged infractions, the Huajian factory severely underpaid workers and made them sign fake pay stubs as a cover-up.
“The investigators of China Labor Watch started work at Huajian on April 25 and, like other newly recruited employees, were asked to sign several fake pay stubs,” China Labor Watch said.
In response to reports of unethical behavior at the factory this month, Ivanka Trump brand president Abigail Klem said the company hadn’t worked with the controversial factory since March.
“While Ivanka Trump-branded products have not been produced at the factory in question since March, the integrity of our supply chain is a top priority, and we take all allegations very seriously,” Klem said on June 7.
In its June 21 report, however, China Labor Watch said it has “evidence showing that the factory is (or at least was) scheduled to manufacture shoes for Ivanka Trump again in May and June. However … we are not certain whether the factory will continue with this plan.”
In response to an email inquiry from Footwear News today, Klem maintained that the brand has not worked with the factory since March, repeating her June 7 statement.
Earlier this month, China Labor Watch said it sent a four-page appeal to first daughter Ivanka Trump — who in January stepped away from her formal roles at her eponymous label and become an aide to her father, President Donald Trump — asking her to help facilitate the release of the three activists. (Ivanka Trump has shifted the brand’s assets to a family-run trust.)
In the letter, the organization said it believed the undercover activists were targeted because they were investigating a supplier connected to the Ivanka Trump brand.
“In the past 17 years, China Labor Watch has conducted hundreds of factory investigations, and yet this is the first time our investigators face criminal detention,” Li Qiang, executive director of organization, wrote in the letter. “We believe the reason to that is pertaining to the supplier factories of your brands particularly.”
Throughout President Trump’s campaign run, both his line as well as Ivanka Trump’s came under significant criticism for their use of China-based factories — actions deemed inconsistent with the his protectionist rhetoric.
In October, Ivanka Trump’s label fielded accusations that Xuankai Shoes, a producer of Trump merchandise, allegedly mistreated workers by paying low wages and requiring excessive hours of labor.
At that time, Marc Fisher Footwear — the licensee for Ivanka Trump’s shoes — called the reports erroneous. (Marc Fisher Footwear is responsible for producing Ivanka Trump’s shoes. Marc Fisher also produces footwear for Guess, Tommy Hilfiger, Easy Spirit and Kendall + Kylie.)
“The factory produces several brands for Marc Fisher Footwear along with other American and Japanese brands that have strict social compliance regulations,” the spokesperson told Footwear News exclusively in October. “Routinely, Marc Fisher Footwear and its licensers have our production factories inspected … The social compliance audits performed over the past 12 months have resulted in approvals to proceed with production. Marc Fisher Footwear also has a consultant in China that provides social compliance reviews and audits. Earlier this year, the factory Xuankai was audited by our consultant, with no compliance violations.”
Regarding the most recent report from China Labor Watch, Vince Camuto, Naturalizer and Marc Fisher (Guess, Easy Spirit) did not immediately respond to FN’s requests for comment. Nine West said it had no comment on the matter.