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Chinese Labor Activists Go Missing


Two labor activists in China are still missing. They're presumed to be detained by police. We know that a third person is. They were investigating alleged labor abuses at a factory that makes shoes for several major brands, including Ivanka Trump. NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from Beijing.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Hua Haifeng disappeared sometime Sunday local time. Hua works for China Labor Watch, a New York-based group that investigates violations of workers' rights. His wife, Deng Guimian, says he was en route to the Huajian International shoe factory in southern Jiangxi province. She said that police called her Tuesday to inform her that her husband had been arrested.

DENG GUIMIAN: (Through interpreter) They said, you only need to know that your husband has been arrested on criminal charges. You don't need to know anything other than that.

KUHN: China Labor Watch says two of Hua's colleagues are also missing and presumed detained. Deng says she has not informed her or Hua's parents or their two young children about the incident to keep from upsetting them. And, she says, she backs her husband 100 percent.

DENG: (Through interpreter) I understand and support my husband's work. I feel his work is legal and meaningful. So why should they arrest him?

KUHN: The Huajian factory makes about 10,000 to 20,000 pairs of shoes a year for the Trump brand. They make millions more for others, including Coach and Nine West. They couldn't be reached for comment by phone. China Labor Watch director Li Qiang says that his investigators worked undercover in the factory for more than a month and shot some eight hours of video footage. He says he has evidence that the workers at the factory were forced to put in overtime without pay. One such instance happened, he says, after a batch of shoes was found to have defects.

LI QIANG: (Foreign language spoken).

KUHN: "The workers all wanted to leave," he says, "but they couldn't because if they did, they'd be fired. So they were forced to work until 1:30 a.m., and then they had to go back to work the same morning at 7:10 a.m."

Li says he investigated the Huajian shoe factory precisely because it was making shoes for the Ivanka Trump brand, and he thought he could leverage that to help the workers.

LI: (Foreign language spoken).

KUHN: "We're helping Ivanka to discover labor abuses at the factories that supply her," he says. "That way, she can improve her supply chain. We also hope that, through her influence, we can reduce labor abuses on the production lines of multinational corporations."

Li says he's going to submit his video footage to Ivanka Trump's company. Li adds that, although he can't prove it, he believes that the police are trying to protect this factory because it makes shoes for a family member of the U.S. president. Political analysts in China say Beijing finds the Trump administration unpredictable. And if they can open up a channel to the president through his family members, they'll use it.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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