Men probing Ivanka Trump supplier in China arrested, missing

The three activists were investigating labor conditions at Huajian shoe factories for the New York-based nonprofit organization China Labor Watch that aims to defend workers' rights.

"Our plan was to investigate the factory to improve the labor situation", said China Labor Watch Executive Director Li Qiang. He added that although his group has been investigating working conditions of Chinese suppliers for almost 20 years, he's never "attracted such scrutiny from China's state security apparatus", the AP reported.

"We appeal to President Trump, Ivanka Trump herself, and to her related brand company to advocate and press for the release our activists", the group said in an email to Reuters. "Now, she must decide whether she can ignore the Chinese government's apparent attempt to silence an investigation into those worker abuses".

Huajian Group and the Ivanka Trump brand did not immediately return messages seeking comment. She and her father both have extensive trademark portfolios in China, though neither has managed to build up a large retail or real estate presence here.

White House spokeswoman Hope Hicks referred questions to Ivanka Trump's brand.

A Huajian spokesman told the AP in January that the company makes 20 million shoes annually, between 10,000 and 20,000 of which are for Trump's brand.

This isn't the first time Trump's name has been associated with some questionable business dealings in China.

The news comes amid a broader crackdown in China on independent groups pushing for better labor rights in the world's second-largest economy.

Huajian has previously said it has been making shoes for the USA president's daughter for almost a decade, accounting for one-third of her shoes made in China but only a small proportion of its total output.

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(Earlier this month, Ivanka was under fire over claims regarding the company's twelve-and-a-half (or longer) hour workdays and minimal pay.) Deng Guilian says her husband Hua Haifeng was arrested and accused of illegal surveillance.

"I was scared when the police called me, I was shaking with a mix of fear and anger", Deng told the Guardian, adding she was anxious she would be unable to support their two young children as well as three elderly relatives without his income.

Other customers supplied by the two factories under investigation by China Labor Watch include Coach, Alain Delon, Nine West and Karl Lagerfeld, the advocacy group said. Li added that a friend had tried to file a missing person report on Li Zhao in Jiangxi, where the factory is located, but was told he had to do so in the man's hometown.

He noted the activists were probing two factories owned by major footwear producer Huajian Group - one in the city of Dongguan in southern Guangdong province, the other in Jiangxi's Ganzhou.

Li Zhao, one of the missing activists, was telephoned by police before he disappeared, but was not asked to report for questioning.

A spokeswoman for the factory did not respond to questions Tuesday. But Li said his work has never attracted such scrutiny from China's state security apparatus.

"The accusation from Jiangxi police has no factual basis", he said. In the past, the worst thing Li feared was having investigators kicked out of a factory or face a short police detention.

AP reported that the three men had already documented excessive overtime and a below minimum wage at the Chinese company.

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