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   Monday, 06 December 2021
World

A woman, an investigator, and a quest for justice in China

Sagarica

Chinese labor activist Hua Haifeng watches as his daughter walks through the gates of her school on the outskirts of Xiangyang in central Chinau2019s Hubei Province. Apple Inc. and Ivanka Trumpu2019s brand both rely on Chinese suppliers that have been criticized for workplace abuses. But theyu2019ve taken contrasting approaches to dealing with supply chain problems. When Apple learned thousands of student workers at an iPhone supplier had been underpaid, it helped them get their money back. After three men investigating labor abuses at factories that made Ivanka Trump shoes were arrested last year, neither Ivanka Trump nor her brand spoke out
Chinese labor activist Hua Haifeng watches as his daughter walks through the gates of her school on the outskirts of Xiangyang in central Chinau2019s Hubei Province. Apple Inc. and Ivanka Trumpu2019s brand both rely on Chinese suppliers that have been criticized for workplace abuses. But theyu2019ve taken contrasting approaches to dealing with supply chain problems. When Apple learned thousands of student workers at an iPhone supplier had been underpaid, it helped them get their money back. After three men investigating labor abuses at factories that made Ivanka Trump shoes were arrested last year, neither Ivanka Trump nor her brand spoke out

A woman, an investigator, and a quest for justice in China

XIANGYA: The young woman, new to the grind of Chinese factory life, knew the man who called himself Kalen only by the photo on his chat profile. It showed him with a pressed smile holding a paper cup in a swank skyscraper  somewhere late at night.

Yu Chunyan and her friends didn’t know what to make of him. Some thought his eyes were shifty. Others said he looked handsome in a heroic sort of way.

Yu was among the doubters. The daughter of factory workers, Yu paid her way through college by working in factories herself. She and thousands of other students had toiled through the summer of 2016 assembling iPhones at a supplier for Apple Inc, but they hadn’t been paid their full wages.

Kalen was offering to help — and asking nothing in return.

This struck Yu as suspicious. If there was one thing she had learned in her 23 years it was this: “There’s no free lunch.”

Disputes like these often don’t go well for workers in China. But over the years, suicides and sweatshop scandals have pushed some companies, like Apple, to reconsider their approach to workplace fairness.

Today, a growing number of brands, including Apple, Nike Inc, Gap Inc., Levi Strauss & Co, and the H&M Group prioritize transparency and take public responsibility for conditions throughout their global supply chains. Labor rights groups like the one Kalen worked for, China Labor Watch, can play a useful watchdog role for these companies, by helping them understand what’s really going on at their suppliers.

But not everyone has embraced this new approach.

When China Labor Watch confronted Ivanka Trump’s brand with charges of labor abuses at its Chinese suppliers, her company refused to engage. It made no public effort to investigate the allegations: forced overtime, pay as low as $1 an hour, and crude verbal and physical abuse — including one incident in which a man was hit in the head with the sharp end of a high-heeled shoe.

Ivanka Trump, who still owns but no longer closely manages her namesake brand, stayed silent. Neither she nor her brand would comment for this story.

Unlike Apple, her brand doesn’t publish the identities of its manufacturers. In fact, its supply chains have only grown more opaque since the first daughter took on her White House role.

But as the summer of 2016 was ending, Yu Chunyan had no idea she was about to get an education in geopolitics and corporate social responsibility. She wanted one thing only: her wages. And she saw one way to get them: The stranger with the odd English name.

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