In yesterday’s edition, The Guardian published an interesting article about working conditions in a textile factory that makes clothes for Ivanka Trump’s brand in Indonesia. There is a touch of humor in the story, because on May 31 it was reported that in China, Hua Haifeng, an activist in labor issues, had been detained by police while investigating working conditions in a factory making shoes for Ivanka Trump’s brand. In addition to Huang, two other men, Li Zhao and Su Heng, also disappeared while investigating conditions in another Chinese factory that makes shoes for Ivanka. They have not yet been released by Chinese authorities.
Based on what has been reported, these two activists were raising a ruckus not only because the factory in question was paying less than the established minimum salary in China, but it was also consistently portrayed as tolerating daily verbal abuse and violations of the rights of women.
Li told The Guardian that although his organization had participated in hundreds of investigations of factories across China, the investigation of the factory making products for Ivanka Trump, strangely, was the first one the government had decided to block. Why would that be?
Ivanka Trump’s brand is thought of as offering clothing and accessories that give a nod to feminism and fit in well with the personality of the working woman. Ivanka is now also the author of a book about women’s work. In it, she advocates a certain equilibrium, conservative-modern we might say, between work on the one hand and domestic obligations and recreation on the other. Needless to say, an article reporting that the factories making her products pay below the Chinese minimum wage and routinely mistreat women would be embarrassing.
In addition to being among Donald Trump’s principal advisers, it is assumed that Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, would have to be boosters of the verbal diarrhea known as “America First.” According to this notion, the Mexicans and Chinese in particular have been playing the "gringos" as fools for decades, selling them products made under inhumane conditions, so that they could undermine the U.S. industrial base and lure those factories to their own countries. In his campaign, Trump ranted about Mexico and China unfairly competing with the United States, and said that the first thing he would do when he became president would be to shut off the flow of free trade with those two countries. Now the Chinese are suppressing an investigation into the miserable conditions that prevail in the factories making products for the Ivanka Trump brand. Why?
With respect to the Chinese authorities, the “America First” rhetoric seems to have led them to an increasingly open strategy of co-opting Trump and his affiliated companies. The imprisonment of the activists who were trying to expose the conditions under which Ivanka Trump’s very patriotic products are made is a good example of this policy, but it is by no means the only one. Since Trump became U.S. president, the Chinese government has approved 35 licenses directly in his name. These will assist him in putting into play a good number of businesses in the hospitality sector, in the sale of securities, in prostitution (the sector known as “escort services”) and in private security. It is an extraordinary number of licenses to have been granted, and they were all processed expeditiously. If Juan Ruiz de Alarcón were still alive, he might entitle this work “La Concesión Sospechosa” (“The Suspected License”).*
Last but not least, there is the more recent case of son-in-law and jack-of-all-trades Jared Kushner, whose sister caused an uproar a few weeks ago when she was in China to attract investors for two skyscrapers that the family is building in New Jersey. To sweeten the offer for potential investors, the little sister of Trump’s principal adviser offered them expedited residency permits (“green cards”), for each $500 million invested. This is, without a doubt, the type of “extreme vetting” which Trump has been promoting, to decide who will or will not be given a visa to enter the United States. The Chinese kleptocracy will pass this extreme test: What is $500 million to them?
Thanks to The Guardian’s investigative reporting, we also know exactly what the conditions are in Ivanka’s factories – in the Chinese workshops, covered up by the corruption that links the government to Trump – and also in the ones in Indonesia, where workers don’t earn enough in a lifetime to buy their own houses. The majority are not protected by unions, and they are paid 40 percent less than the minimum salary in China. The lifestyle that Ivanka promotes in her book is in no way possible under these conditions, which have quite certainly attracted Trump family money. The Trump family doesn’t seem to have had a problem abandoning U.S. soil.
For Mexico, the moral of the story is more or less clear: If we want Trump to turn down the volume of his anti-Mexican harangue, we will have to offer him, his daughter and his son-in-law a nice bribe.
*Translator’s note: Juan Ruiz de Alarcón (1581?-1639) was a writer, primarily of plays, who was born in New Spain (Mexico) but lived most of his adult life in Spain. Probably his best-known play is the comedy “La Verdad Sospechosa,” usually rendered in English as “(The) Truth Suspected.”