At the end of June, Chinese authorities released three labor activists who’d been arrested while investigating factories where Ivanka Trump–brand shoes were made. They were held for about a month, and one of the men — Hua Haifeng — told the New York Times he was interrogated about 16 times for periods between 30 minutes and three hours. In a separate interview with the Guardian, Hua added that, had it not been for the factory’s connection to the First Daughter, he probably wouldn’t have been detained at all.
“When I was first taken away by police, I couldn’t understand why I was being arrested,” he said. “But once I was released and was reconnected to the outside world, I think it was probably because of the factory’s connection to Ivanka.”
He told the Times that, when he was assigned to the case by China Labor Watch, he hadn’t worried about its political implications. “I thought President Trump was only doing the president’s job, and his daughter was only doing business,” he said.
Hua, who’s a former factory worker, has been investigating unfair labor practices for years, but this was his first arrest. When he and two other activists were detained, they were on the verge of releasing a damning report about Huajian Group factories, where nearly 1,000 pairs of Ivanka Trump shoes were scheduled to be produced in May. (In a statement, Ivanka Trump president Abigail Klem said the brand had stopped using Huajian factories in March.) Li Qiang, the founder of China Labor Watch, told the Associated Press that Huajian violated China’s minimum-wage laws, giving workers as little as two days off a month and forcing them to lie about their working conditions.
When Hua tried to return to Hong Kong to tell the director of China Labor Watch about what he’d seen, police told him “that he could not leave mainland China,” according to the Times. He fled inland and met up with a second activist, Li Zhao; a day later the police found them and arrested them along with a third activist, Su Heng. All three were placed in holding cells and were denied access to a lawyer until the U.S. State Department informally called for their release.
After that Hua said he was able to speak with a lawyer, but he was detained for several more weeks. Right now, he and the other activists are out on bail. “I’m just doing what the police tell me to do,” he said. “There’s a chance they won’t move forward with the case, and I hope if I do what they tell me this can all be over.”