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In recent months, Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has deployed his daughter Ivanka to show that the family has a compassionate side, which, among other things, will push both her and her father to advocate for better lives for working people. Such ideals are easier to trumpet than to implement, however, especially when it comes to the many-tentacled global supply chain of subcontractors that the Trumps use to produce their brands.
Workers at one Chinese footwear factory that, according to US customs data available on the ImportGenius database, has made more than 130,000 pounds of Ivanka Trump-brand shoes, describe being subjected to an array of workplace indignities, some that would potentially qualify as violations of local labor law. Workers say that the factory, Xuankai Footwear Ltd., located in the Houjie area of Dongguan in China’s Pearl River Delta, required them to work lengthy shifts stretching up to 16 hours that tested and exceeded the limits of human endurance. Some workers also allege that the factory paid illegally low overtime rates and systematically delayed wage payments.
“I couldn’t do it,” said one 26-year-old worker, who had been previously employed in several other Houjie shoe factories but said he quit after mere hours at Xuankai. “I was too scared.”
Customs records show that as recently as 2014, Ivanka Trump produced shoes in the Xuankai factory through a licensing agreement with Greenwich, Connecticut-based footwear company Marc Fisher. The company also manufactures Guess and Tommy Hilfiger, as well as its eponymous Marc Fisher label. (In June of this year, luxury shoe brand Aquazurra sued Ivanka Trump and Marc Fisher for allegedly copying one of its designs. The firm calls the suit baseless, but in 2012, Gucci won a similar knockoff case against Guess and Marc Fisher.)
Marc Fisher, Guess, and Tommy Hilfiger did not respond to requests for comment about the Xuankai facility, and neither did Xuankai itself. Public relations firm Hiltzik Strategies answered a request sent to Ivanka Trump's brand, but declined to comment.
Although Ivanka Trump’s name has been absent from Xuankai shipping records since December 2014, Marc Fisher appears to have recently ordered from the factory. According to import logs available on Panjiva, a database that aggregates US customs data, Marc Fisher could well be Xuankai’s largest single American customer, as the company accounts for some 90 percent of the factory’s recorded US imports in the database.
In July, a shipment of nearly 3,000 pounds of shoes from Xuankai entered the Port of Oakland, California, listing a Connecticut address that state records identify as the headquarters of Marc Fisher Footwear. The recent shipping document did not specify exactly to which Marc Fisher brand the shoes belonged; while the “about” page on Xuankai’s website does not name Ivanka Trump, it lists Guess and “Tommy Europe,” as well as DKNY, as customers. DKNY says it has not used the factory since 2012.
Interviews with Xuankai workers were conducted during visits to more than a half-dozen factories that have produced products for Donald and Ivanka Trump in several cities along the east coast of China. The workers I spoke with at these factories described conditions that varied significantly between facilities. In contrast to Xuankai, workers at two other factories that produced for Ivanka Trump — a shoe facility run by the Huajin Group contracted through Marc Fisher and a garment factory called Hangzhou HS Fashion connected to Ivanka Trump through apparel intermediary G-III — described broad satisfaction with their employers. And, at four factories in the town of Shengzhou that produced for Donald Trump's brand, no legal violations were alleged.
Xuankai was different. Workers there told me that they were generally given only two days of rest per month and commonly worked 12-hour shifts, from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., with two one-hour meal breaks. A former employee surnamed Tian — who had quit the factory just days before, but still carried his Xuankai badge — said that in his months at the factory, he would sometimes have to work from 8 a.m. until 1 or 2 the following morning, with two hours of breaks during the long shifts. “We got to sleep for six hours,” said Tian. “If we worked until after three in the morning, we could start the next day at 9:15.”
When I showed Tian photographs of Ivanka Trump shoes on my phone, he said he did not recognize the shiny, uppercase logo lettering, but that he had worked on very similar-looking shoes during his time in the factory.
Another former worker said that, when Xuankai was rushing to fill an order, he would work all day and throughout the night, stopping only for meal breaks. He lasted several months before quitting. “It’s a garbage factory,” he said. A 23-year-old worker saw a relationship between the long hours and the demands of the factory’s foreign customers. “If the client needs [an order] quick, we need to work longer,” he said. “I usually work until eleven o’clock or midnight.” (One Xuankai employee, who worked in the factory’s storage area, said he worked only ten-hour days. Desiring a higher income, he said that he wished the company would give him more overtime.)
One worker from Guizhou province told me that he had worked long hours each day for the entire month of July without a single day off. And, although it was mid-August when we spoke, he said he had not yet received payment even for the work he had done in early July. Workers at Xuankai said that the factory routinely withholds their wages for up to eight weeks in order to, one worker speculated, make it more difficult for employees to leave the factory. “They will keep one month’s salary as a deposit,” said the worker.
“Chinese law is very strict when it comes to paying employees on time,” explains Grace Yang, an attorney with a focus on Chinese employment law at the Seattle law firm Harris Moure. She notes that Chinese labor regulations can vary between jurisdictions, but that “seven or eight weeks to get payment — that sounds late by any standard.”
Yang says that, while she cannot know offhand which exact rules apply to the Xuankai factory, 12-hour workdays with so few rest days per month “could exceed the statutory maximum” of overtime hours. “It has to be reasonable,” she says, “and that sounds unreasonable to me.”
As a “small group leader” at the factory, one worker said he could earn roughly 4,400 yuan a month, or just over $650, for his long hours, well above China's average monthly migrant wage of 3,072 yuan. But an entry-level worker at Xuankai said that, even with the factory’s long overtime hours, he makes roughly 3,000 yuan a month. The Xuankai workers said the factory paid an overtime wage of 10 yuan per hour. The hourly minimum wage in Dongguan is 14.4 yuan, according to China Labor Bulletin, and employers are generally required to pay non-managerial workers time-and-a-half for overtime hours.
Tian asserted that the factory’s overtime rate was illegal; as per Yang, “That sounds really low.”
Tian has been employed in a number of different shoe factories in Dongguan, he said, and all were bad, but Xuankai was among the worst. “We couldn’t get enough rest or sleep, so we were not in good condition to work,” Tian said. “I couldn’t bear it anymore.”
Update: October 13, 2016, 10:15 a.m.
This post has been updated to include comment from DKNY.
Additional reporting by Jackie Cai, Xu Hui, and Angela Chen.