The Chinese Labor Activist Who Wants Ivanka Trump to ‘Take Responsibility’
When Ivanka Trump announced in March she would take a job at the White House advising her father, labor-rights advocate Li Qiang had found his highest-profile target yet.
By homing in on factories that supply Ivanka Trump-branded products, the founder of New York-based China Labor Watch thought the daughter of newly elected President Donald Trump could become a potent illustration of the problems facing Chinese workers like those employed by one of her suppliers -- whom he said are often overworked, underpaid and unprotected.
Li’s group had begun to look for possible Ivanka Trump suppliers the previous June when her father was campaigning for the presidency. By the time Ivanka Trump made her announcement, Li’s group had spoken to more than 100 workers around China to identify Huajian Group, which supplied Ivanka Trump shoes under license to Marc Fisher Footwear.
In March, Li sent investigators to what he said turned out to be one of the worst facilities among more than 600 his group has probed, with some employees working 18 hours, six days a week, for about a dollar an hour. Management also fined workers for being late or calling in sick, Li said.
He wrote to Ivanka Trump personally in April, urging her to take action in a letter sent to the White House. A month later, Li lost contact with the three investigators. They had been held by police, the first time in the group’s 17 years that its activists had faced criminal detention.
“I feel a bit lost,” said Li, 45. “It’s hard to understand why the Chinese government wanted to lock them up.”
Though the Huajian factory in the southeastern province of Jiangxi makes shoes for other well-known companies, Li said he focused on Ivanka Trump’s brand because he believes her actions could force changes in labor conditions in China and pave the way for other brands to seek improvements. Li said he is not seeking responses from Huajian or Marc Fisher about his findings as he wants Trump “to take responsibility.”
From a 500-square-foot office near Herald Square, Li seeks out labor abuses in the country he fled two decades ago. He sends contractors, activists and sometimes volunteers to get production-line jobs, where they interview workers, take pictures and videos. Li’s group has documented child labor, inadequate safety training, excessive overtime, poor living conditions, fines for tardiness and late wages.
“Having an independent party to investigate factory conditions is invaluable,” said Aaron Halegua, a consultant on labor issues and research fellow at New York University’s School of Law. “Otherwise, there’s often no way to corroborate or challenge the claims that brands make about their supply chain.”
The group has had major successes. Violations at Apple Inc. supplier Pegatron Corp. led the tech giant to work with the manufacturer to improve factory conditions. Samsung Electronics Co. reviewed some of its Chinese factories after abuses at suppliers were exposed.
In China Labor Watch’s latest case, Huajian denied that employees were underpaid or forced to work excessive hours. “Western media have been misled by China Labor Watch,” which has “undertaken illegal actions in China to gain twisted information, in order to profit,” the company said in a statement.
Li said his group does not seek to profit from any of its probes, including the Ivanka Trump-related investigations.
“Our goal was to use the information to expose labor abuses at the factory,” Li said. “Huajian has twisted the fact and tried to hide the truth of the breaches.”
Shanya Perera, spokeswoman for Marc Fisher, declined to comment. Abigail Klem, the Ivanka Trump brand president, has said in an e-mailed statement to Bloomberg News that its licensed products haven’t been produced at the factory since March, and that licensees are “required to operate within strict social compliance regulations.” A spokeswoman for Ivanka Trump didn’t respond to requests for comment.
April 21, 2017
USALI Faculty Adviser Cynthia Estlund was featured by ChinaFile regarding her new book, "A New Deal for China's Workers?" published in January 2017 through Harvard University Press.
Read and watch at ChinaFile.com
China’s labor landscape is changing, and it is transforming the global economy in ways that we cannot afford to ignore. Once-silent workers have found their voice, organizing momentous protests, such as the 2010 Honda strikes, and demanding a better deal. China’s leaders have responded not only with repression but with reforms. Are China’s workers on the verge of a breakthrough in industrial relations and labor law reminiscent of the American New Deal?
In A New Deal for China’s Workers? Cynthia Estlund views this changing landscape through the comparative lens of America’s twentieth-century experience with industrial unrest. China’s leaders hope to replicate the widely shared prosperity, political legitimacy, and stability that flowed from America’s New Deal, but they are irrevocably opposed to the independent trade unions and mass mobilization that were central to bringing it about. Estlund argues that the specter of an independent labor movement, seen as an existential threat to China’s one-party regime, is both driving and constraining every facet of its response to restless workers.
China’s leaders draw on an increasingly sophisticated toolkit in their effort to contain worker activism. The result is a surprising mix of repression and concession, confrontation and cooptation, flaws and functionality, rigidity and pragmatism. If China’s laborers achieve a New Deal, it will be a New Deal with Chinese characteristics, very unlike what workers in the West achieved in the last century. Estlund’s sharp observations and crisp comparative analysis make China’s labor unrest and reform legible to Western readers. —Harvard University Press
NYU Law Professor and USALI Director Jerome A. Cohen was quoted in this Bloomberg article.
"China’s parliament -- never known for its independence -- saw dissenting votes sink to their lowest level in more than a decade as President Xi Jinping demands greater loyalty ahead of a crucial party reshuffle.
Only 14 of the 2,838 lawmakers who turned up Wednesday for the closing session of the National People’s Congress voted against approving the annual report on the government’s performance and targets for the coming year. That compares with the 101 dissenting votes cast in 2013, the final report presented under Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao.
Other reports introduced by the supreme court, state prosecutors and the legislature all received fewer “no” votes than at any point since at least 2006. Earlier data was only sporadically available in Chinese media reports, which failed to provide a breakdown of votes in some years.
The results show how successfully Xi has curtailed public dissent as he prepares for a Communist Party gathering later this year to reshuffle much of the country’s top leadership. Xi has sought to avoid any drama before the twice-a-decade event as he seeks to win backing for his economic reform plans and secure lasting political influence.
“Since Xi Jinping’s ascendance and particularly today, it is clear that the party has brought the legislature to heel,” said Jerome Cohen, a New York University School of Law professor who has been studying China’s legal system since the 1960s. “The annual voting records provide an unusually clear symbol of what has taken place politically, just as the numbers in environmental smog reports clearly delineate increasing pollution.”"
This article was published in the New York Times on July 28, 2010 under the title, “A Scholar’s Insight Into China’s Budding Legal System.”
Author: Richard Bernstein
NEW YORK — It was the early 1970s, and Jerome A. Cohen, at the time a specialist on China at Harvard Law School, was having dinner with Prime Minister Zhou Enlai in Beijing.
“I told Zhou, ‘You should put somebody on the International Court of Justice,”’ Mr. Cohen recalled. “Well, he and the other Chinese officials at the dinner laughed uproariously. They thought I was Jack Benny. Why would Communist China want to put somebody on a court where they’d be outvoted by all those capitalist judges?
“But they’ve done it,” Mr. Cohen said, illustrating one of the things that seems normal in China today but that was almost unthinkable when China’s opening to the world was brand new. “They’ve staffed all international organizations with excellent legal talent.”
Mr. Cohen, who essentially created the U.S. study of law in the People’s Republic of China, has been following developments in Chinese law for roughly half a century, lately as professor of law at New York University and as a frequent commentator on various legal and human rights cases in China.
It’s fair to say that when Mr. Cohen got started, the U.S. study of modern Chinese law didn’t exist, and neither really did law in China. And so, he’s had a privileged view of a remarkable development, the creation virtually from scratch of the entire Chinese legal system.
Mr. Cohen recently celebrated his 80th birthday, which seemed a good time to ask him to assess how China has done over the years.
Most people who follow the frequent accounts of human rights violations in China would answer that China hasn’t done very well, and when it comes to human rights, Mr. Cohen largely agrees. In the last few years he has become a major source of information about human rights, or their absence, in China, his specialty being the instances where China fails to observe its own law.
Only last week Mr. Cohen published an article on the case of Xue Feng, a naturalized U.S. citizen recently sentenced to eight years in prison in China for helping his U.S. employer purchase a commercial database on Chinese oil resources — an act that the Chinese Ministry of State Security deemed to be a violation of the country’s catchall state secrets law.
Mr. Cohen’s article, published in The South China Morning Post and in Chinese in The China Times on Taiwan — both newspapers that are paid attention to inside China — listed at least half a dozen instances in which the police or prosecutors broke China’s own law in their handling of Mr. Xue’s case.
After he was seized by the Chinese police in November 2007, for example, Mr. Xue was held incommunicado for months in a secret prison. He was tortured. He didn’t have access to legal counsel for about a year. And his trial was closed not only to the public but to Mr. Xue’s family — all in blatant violation of China’s own Criminal Procedure Law.
In addition, the U.S. Consulate wasn’t informed of the arrest of Mr. Xue for 32 days, rather than the four days provided for in the two countries’ consular agreement.
But while Mr. Cohen has the expertise to point out these violations and to publicize them, he takes a moderate and balanced view of the overall picture, seeing some promise in the creation of an entire legal culture that simply didn’t exist before.
“There are now some 200,000 judges, close to 180,000 prosecutors, roughly 170,000 lawyers, and thousands of law professors, as well as tens of thousands of people with legal training who staff local, regional and central government agencies and most large enterprises,” Mr. Cohen said. “And while they have different viewpoints, they all do have an interest in promoting a legal system that’s blatantly inadequate in some respects, but does well in others.”
Over the years, Mr. Cohen has met with members of numerous legal delegations organized by the Chinese Supreme Court that have visited the United States, including one soon to arrive to study punishment policies — “because they want to improve, and they know they are under enormous criticism abroad because of their death sentence policy.”
“Last year a delegation came to study exclusion of illegally obtained evidence, an effort to stop coerced confessions and torture,” Mr. Cohen said, pointing out that last month China published new rules trying to ensure that coerced confessions wouldn’t be admitted in courts.
“But,” Mr. Cohen said, “when it comes to the most basic questions of the fundamental decencies that every government should observe toward its own citizens, this government and this party have failed to cut the mustard.”
It’s a paradox, explained in part by Mr. Cohen as an unintended consequence of China’s efforts to build a legal system, which its leaders want for the sake of credibility and legitimacy.
“They’ve done a lot to create an awareness of law and rights, and they’ve trained a series of overlapping legal elites that want to use their legal educations to help people defend those rights,” Mr. Cohen said.
But with more and more people seeing the law as a means of challenging arbitrary authority — by protesting being evicted from their homes by real estate developers, for example — the security apparatus steps in to enforce what China often calls “social stability.”
“The first reaction of the leaders is repression,” he said. “And in cases that involve state security, they’re not too fastidious about their own law.”
Mr. Cohen has what might be called the foreigners’ advantage in calling attention to China’s human rights shortcomings. He can freely write and publish, where Chinese colleagues cannot. And, while he has no doubt angered the authorities from time to time, he is clearly held in high esteem by many in the budding Chinese legal world itself.
In May this year, Tsinghua University Law School in Beijing held a conference on criminal justice and the role of defense lawyers in honor of Mr. Cohen’s 80th birthday, which would seem to be a sign of progress in itself, even if, as is often the case in China, a note of repression marred the event. At the last minute, one leading Chinese criminal defense lawyer was removed from the program by the authorities — no explanation provided.
USALI Executive Director Ira Belkin and USALI Visiting Scholar Teng Biao were cited in this American Bar Association article from December 2015:
Innocence project movement in China rises to aid the wrongfully convicted
POSTED DEC 01, 2015 02:30 AM CST
BY ANTHONY LIN
China's death penalty train, widely believed to be the world's most active, is showing some signs of slowing down. And domestic innocence projects may be having an effect, though small, on getting wrongful convictions in capital crimes overturned.
China may execute more people every year than the rest of the world combined. Amnesty International believes that to be the case—though it declines to estimate how many executions are carried out because it is pushing China to reveal the figure, currently a state secret. The Dui Hua Foundation, a San Francisco-based human rights group, reckons 2,400 people received the death penalty in China in 2013. That compares to 369 in Iran, the next-highest in executions, and 39 in the United States.
Dui Hua estimates the 2013 figure was down 20 percent from 2012. The Chinese government is considering a reduction in the number of offenses eligible for capital punishment from 55 to 46. And innocence projects are arising to push for the exonerations of those who have been wrongfully convicted of capital crimes.
Read the entire article here: http://www.abajournal.com/magazine/article/innocence_project_movement_in_china_rises_to_aid_the_wrongfully_convicted