Backlash Over Ivanka's Chinese-Made Products Goes Viral

  • Kristina Evans
  • Jul 2, 2017 10:17AM

It seems like every day, on top of constant reporting on her father’s latest outrageous tweets, the media will be discussing a new topic involving Ivanka Trump. I suppose it’s to be expected, as the First Lady has been resistant to her role at every step, while Ivanka has fully embraced every nuance of power and authority she could in the new administration.

In a recent interview with Fox & Friends, Ivanka addressed a question about her father’s use of Twitter to bypass most normal presidential communications with the most hilarious answer: “I try to stay out of politics...His political instincts are phenomenal. He did something that no one could have imagined he’d be able to accomplish. I feel blessed just being part of the ride from day one and before. But he did something pretty remarkable. But I don’t profess to be a political savant.”

Comedy writers are banging their heads against the wall for not concocting that piece of comedy gold before. I’m not sure what world she’s living in, but Ivanka not being involved in politics but being a White House adviser does not compute. She has become a trusted lieutenant to her father, delivering a well-received convention speech in Cleveland in July and moving to Washington in January with her husband, Jared Kushner, who is one of the president’s closest advisers and, for all intents and purposes, a secretary of state.

Both Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner have been credited by China experts on both sides of the Pacific with engineering her father’s thaw with Beijing. President Trump frequently railed against China, accusing its export-driven economy of stealing American jobs, vowing to impose 45% tariffs on imports and label it a currency manipulator. But the US President has since tempered his rhetoric and even praised Chinese President Xi Jinping for working to rein in North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. President Trump initially angered Xi by questioning Chinese Sovereignty over Taiwan, and it was only after Ivanka Trump cleared the air with Cui Tiankai, the Chinese ambassador to the US, that the two leaders shared a phone call. Cui invited the Kushners to a Chinese New Year embassy reception, where their Mandarin-speaking daughter Arabella charmed the crowd. Kushner himself then took the lead organizing a summit between Xi and President Trump at Mar-a-Lago resort in April.

“Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner are very important to US-China relations,” says Zhan Jiang of Beijing Foreign Studies University. “It’s a Chinese mentality to value these family connections.”

Ivanka’s intervention in China on her father’s behalf is quite a politically savvy move and given her sudden power status in China, a personally beneficial one at that. Time reports that Ivanka’s brand- after falling victim to China’s cutthroat luxury-goods market in previous years- has suddenly boomed after the US inauguration in January. According to leading fashion web portal Lyst, global orders for Ivanka Trump products in February were up 774% compared to the same time last year. In China, where Lyst has yet to open a dedicated site or offer Chinese-language support, there was a doubling of orders and a 284% increase in searches for Ivanka Trump products.

This is arguably why the story of mistreatment at Ganzhou Huajian International Shoe City Co. gained so much traction. Last month, three men investigating conditions at the factory were detained and accused of illegally using secret recording devices to steal commercial secrets. However, the three men were reportedly working with China Labor Watch, a New York group that has been investigating Ivanka Trump’s Chinese suppliers for more than a year.

Li Qiang, the founder of China Labor Watch, describes the factory as among the worst he has seen in nearly two decades investigating labor abuses. His group says pay can be as low as a dollar an hour, and workers get only two days off or less per month. One current and two former employees of the Ganzhou factory spoke to the Associated Press confirming many of the allegations and offering examples of worker beatings, fake pay stubs and excessive forced overtime.

Huajian Group, which runs the factory along with several others, denied the allegations and added that it had stopped producing Ivanka Trump shoes months ago. However, trade data shows that Ivanka Trump’s lifestyle brand imports most of its merchandise from China- directly contradicting her father’s ‘America First’ rhetoric that gained him so much support. We’ve already tackled some major points on how manufacturing in North America is dead, let’s instead dissect why this made headlines internationally.

Ivanka Trump’s business model mirrors that of virtually all her competitors in the apparel industry: use low foreign wages and minimal import levies to maximize profits. That’s precisely what her father railed against during his volcanic campaign, when he pledged to force US companies to bring these manufacturing jobs back home. But the fact that every media outlet opened their coverage speaking about Ivanka Trump’s involvement speaks volumes. The China Labor Watch group identified several companies using these atrocious standards for their products: Nine West, Naturalizer, BCBG Max Azria, Jessica Simpson, Tory Burch, Kendall & Kylie Brand. And yet none of these companies are under the same fire as Ivanka Trump for their decisions to use these factories, where some of the 80 workers employed at a Chinese factory were paid just over $60 for a 60-hour work week. Far be it from me to defend any member of the Trump family, but this focus on her brand’s association with these factories feels rather shallow. I have yet to see coverage focusing on the actual disgusting labor conditions, rallying for boycotts and change. It’s a lot of finger-pointing at Trump instead. Nothing that actually proves or accomplishes anything- essentially just something that became a story because it has Ivanka Trump’s name attached to it.

How about we talk about how Trump’s business ties continue to undermine our government and nation’s interests? On the same day that Xi and her father met and dined at Mar-a-Lago, Ivanka Trump’s brand had three new trademarks approved in China for jewelry, leather handbags, and spas. Those are on top of the 15 existing trademarks for cosmetics, luggage, clothes, shoes, and retail and beauty services. Although there is no official sign that the decision was pushed through as a favor, the numerous applications for the Trump brand seem to be getting rushed through quicker than previous years. The associated groups insist that the trademarks are simply defensive to ward off counterfeiters, but her newfound celebrity has sparked hundreds of trademark applications to be filed under Trump’s Chinese name- Yi Wan Ka- for myriad products and services. On June 14, the Chinese government granted preliminary approval for nine Donald Trump trademarks it had previously rejected as well. Of course, there is no formal association with the June 18 event through which Ivanka Trump and Kushner hosted former Iowa governor Terry Branstad, the new US ambassador to China at the Trump Hotel in Washington. But just two days later, US and other media reports claim that a special invitation to Ivanka Trump and Kushner has been extended, allowing them to travel to Beijing in preparation for a presidential visit. But just the other day, Ivanka Trump joined Rex Tillerson for an elaborate ceremony condemning the human rights violations in China.

I wonder what filing system Ivanka uses to organize the multiple lenses through which she views her world. Anything that complex would beneficial to many of us. For a woman who wants to stay out of politics and who has “stepped back from day-to-day management of her brand,” Ivanka Trump seems to profit nicely from her role in the White House through her political authority and business. When are we going to start acknowledging that she’s in this for herself?