Aaron Halegua Quoted in Bloomberg Article About a Chinese Labor Activist Who Wants Ivanka Trump to ‘Take Responsibility’


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.”

Labor Conditions

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.

Exposing Abuses

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.

To view the full article, "The Chinese Labor Activist Who Wants Ivanka Trump to ‘Take Responsibility’," on Bloomberg, please follow this link. 

For more information on China Labor Watch, please click this link to view their website. 

Please click this link to read more on the detainment of the three labor activists investigating the working conditions at a Huajian Group factory. 

Please click this link to read more about the improving labor conditions at Pegatron Corp. 

To find out more about how Samsung addressed the labor violations of its Chinese factories, please follow this link.

NYU Law Professor Cynthia Estlund Discusses New Book at Asia Society/ChinaFile

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

CFR: Interview with Jerome Cohen on Bo Xilai’s Trial

Interviewee: Jerome A. Cohen, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Asia Studies
Interviewer: Bernard Gwertzman, Consulting Editor, Council on Foreign Relations

The just-concluded trial of former Communist Party boss Bo Xilai was unprecedented in opening up a high-profile legal proceeding to public scrutiny, says legal scholar Jerome A. Cohen. The case also reveals the conflicts among the country’s leaders as they grapple with everything from corruption to an economic slowdown. “They’re not repudiating a so-called Western legal system even though they say they can’t adopt it all,” Cohen says. “The fact is they can’t escape its influence and this trial shows it.” The platform of President Xi Jinping, he says, “is very mixed up. You have a very confused leadership.”

Fallen Chinese politician Bo Xilai stands trial inside the court in Jinan, Shandong province (Jinan Intermediate People’s Court/Courtesy Reuters).

The case against a leading Chinese official, Bo Xilai, has ended. The verdict will come out eventually, but what’s the significance of this highly publicized trial?

It has a great significance from several points of view but the most important to me is its significance for justice in China. China is increasingly seething with a sense of injustice. As China has made economic, social, educational, and legal progress in the past three decades, more and more people have come to demand fairness. They want a right to be heard, they want a judiciary that demands integrity, they want to feel they can have somewhere to go to settle their disputes in a way that can inspire confidence, and this trial really showed them something. In the normal trial in China, you don’t have witnesses come to court, you have no right to face your accusers, you have no right to cross-examine them. The trial of Bo Xilai showed what it means when that occurs.

Give an example.

“Leaders of the party have recognized that the fight against corruption for them is a life or death fight.”

In the case of Bo Xilai’s wife [Gu Kailai], who testified against himshe did not turn up in court. The prosecutor merely read aloud in court testimony she had given out of court before the trial. There was no defendant, no defense counsel to ask questions and bring out a fuller picture of what she was saying or rebut it. It was obviously so unfair that overnight, party officials saw that this was not effective so the next day they produced an eleven minute video of part of her previous day’s written testimony. It showed her being interrogated by a friendly questioner; again, no opportunity for anyone to interrupt her, to qualify what she said, to ask a question, to rebut, but at least it did one thing: it humanized her testimony and it gave the Chinese people a chance to examine what we in the law call “demeanor evidence.”

The leaders of the state recognize the desirability and the importance if a trial is going to have integrity and credibility to have your accusers confront you in court, and they produced several of the other major witnesses. Bo Xilai fascinated people because he took the initiative away from even his own competent defense lawyer and he asked questions of witnesses and ridiculed some of them.

You’ve been following Bo Xilai for quite a while. Did you think he had great potential?

Despite the fact that since 2007 he had been spouting Maoism, people who knew him before 2007 all said he’s no Maoist. The Maoism was a gambit to get to power, but I always felt that once in power, because of his openness to the world and his intelligence, he would see that China has got to be brought into the twenty-first century, gain the respect of other powers, and improve the economy by improving the legal system, reducing corruption, and gradually having a freer society. He was smart enough to see that, but he never got there because he took an extreme path to power and because people didn’t like him. All these other guys are team players. This guy is not, and of course since [former Soviet leader Mikhail] Gorbachev, the Chinese leaders have learned to fear individualists.

How do you think he did in the trial?

He put on a pretty impressive show. It wasn’t good enough to persuasively rebut the accusations against him, but it did give people, even his own supporters, a feeling that he hadn’t been denied a right to speak and to defend himself, and that’s unique in Chinese Communist political trials. Bo Xilai has had an opportunity to express himself, in public, in a court, [in] a limited way because his testimony wasn’t open to a public audience, but it was open in a sense, because the government provided a censored transcript of what he said.

This is a tremendous thing for justice; it’s going to stimulate further the rising demand in China for a fair legal system. Getting back to a theme I know you’re interested in, where do the ideas come from for a fair legal system? Are these Western ideas? Are these universal ideas? This is worth talking about.

Is this the platform of President Xi Jinping?

No. Xi’s platform is very mixed up. You have a very confused leadership and the same people within the leadership speak with conflicting voices. The major irony in the Bo Xilai case is what alienated him from the rest of the leadership is his resort to a Maoist, Cultural Revolution–style politics that was designed to propel him into the highest ranks of the leadership. They’ve knocked him down, but at the same time that they’re trying him for various crimes, their whole ideological line at this time is very similar to his. They’re not knocking Chairman Mao; they are still espousing a leftist, Communist doctrine. Indeed, they are trying to revive it. At the same time, they’re not repudiating a so-called Western legal system even though they say they can’t adopt it all. They can’t escape its influence and this trial shows it. It’s very complicated.


They are arresting a number of high officials on corruption charges, right?

Yes. China is now suffering very badly from corruption. Corruption was what did in the Chiang Kai -shek predecessor regime in the 1940s. The contemporary leaders of the party have recognized that the fight against corruption for them is a life or death fight, but once again, they are caught. On the one hand they purport to condemn and punish corruption, and they do it to a limited extent; on the other hand, the real situation prevents them from doing it in a persuasive, effective way, because if they did that they would bring down the regime.

What is their view about liberalizing the media?

More and more in the last eight to ten months the press has been under a great repression. They do not believe in the free press, and more and more they’re showing it. Instructions that come out every day tell the press what to publish, what not to publish, how to publish, what the headlines should be, on what page the news should appear, what sources can be quoted and what can’t. They do not believe in free expression, although the press, naively after the first day of Bo Xilai’s trial, said, “Look at this wonderful transparency! For the first time they are issuing transcripts for a trial hearing!” The reason for it wasn’t a desire to free the press; if they wanted to free the press, they would have let them attend the trial. The reason for issuing transcripts is they wanted to control the transcript so they could continue to be in control of information.

But why did they even bother?

Because they are under enormous domestic and international pressure to meet certain standards, and where do those standards come from? Are these foisted from the evil capitalist conspirators abroad who are trying to bring down the regime? Are these natural human desires to know what’s going on in your own government? Where did they come from? Rising discontent in China, which has a huge increasing number of public, sometimes violent, protests everyday?

Is the economy doing well enough that they can relax? Or are they worried about the economy?

They have done remarkable things since 1978 and of course the world thinks the economy of China can’t be stopped and is going to continue this way and is invulnerable, but the Chinese leaders know better. The economy seems to have peaked. Its many unsolved problems seem to be coming home to roost and we don’t know how serious it’s going to be. So far the leaders have shown considerable ability to be resilient and be fast on their feet and put out every fire as it develops, but they’ve had to do so by ways that have proved to be costly in the long run and they know they can’t continue forever. This move from an export economy to a domestic consumption economy is proving very difficult because the vast state-owned enterprise interests and the families—thousands of rich families—do not want to change the system that has been so wildly successful for them.

Agence France-Presse: Margaret Lewis Cited in AFP on Bo Xilai Trial

This article was originally published in Agence France-Presse on August 24, 2013. 

By Kelly Olsen (AFP) – Aug 24, 2013

BEIJING — The corruption trial of China’s onetime political superstar Bo Xilai combines elements of unusual openness with traditional controls rooted deep in the one-party state and the country’s long history, analysts say.

Bo, who held sway over nearly 30 million people as the top Communist in the megacity of Chongqing before his spectacular fall, faces charges of bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power in a scandal that has rocked the ruling party.

It is not the first time the all-powerful Communist Party has had to air its dirty laundry in public, but the level of openness in the deliberations has caught many by surprise.

“Of course this is not real justice that is being played out,” said Nicholas Bequelin, Hong Kong-based senior researcher at Human Rights Watch. “This is political theatre.”

Unlike previous high-profile trials, the court is providing regular but delayed transcripts on a verified social media account, offering observers a window on proceedings often seen through the distorted lens of limited state media coverage.

They have also given Bo himself an outlet for the details of his defence to reach a wide audience.

“No one expected that Bo Xilai would be given that amount of freedom to defend himself,” Bequelin told AFP.

“Nonetheless the legal parts have been surprisingly good because there is a real legal process taking place there, at least in the courtroom, even though the outcome has already been decided and predetermined.”

The approach has both advantages and risks for China’s rulers, he added.

“Having a good trial like this, something that really looks like a real trial, will help confer legitimacy to the outcome and that’s in the interest of the Party,” he said.

“The cost is that it raises the expectations of the public in terms of administration of justice. Because it gives people ideas, first of all about the virtues of defence rights.”

Margaret Lewis, a professor at Seton Hall Law School in the United States, contrasted Bo’s trial with those of two other once high-flying officials — Chen Liangyu, a former party secretary for Shanghai and Chen Xitong, mayor of Beijing at the time of the Tiananmen massacre — who were convicted of corruption-related charges.

“Both of those trials were carried out completely behind closed doors,” Lewis said in an e-mail. “Bo, in contrast, is at least being given an opportunity to publicly proclaim his innocence.”

Chinese courts normally rely on written statements rather than live witness appearances, and Bo’s cross-examination of key prosecution witness Xu Ming was unusual, she added.

But the message from the courtroom was still being controlled by the government, she stressed. “If, for example, Bo took this opportunity to name officials who have engaged in corrupt dealings, I would be absolutely shocked if that information made it into the transcript released for public view.”

Chinese voices have seized on the hearings as a sign the country’s legal system is changing.

The completeness of the transcripts released via social media “is record-breaking for a Chinese criminal court”, well-known lawyer Chen Youxi said in comments posted online. “It will have a far-reaching impact on Chinese trials of public officials.”

But Nicholas Howson, who teaches law at the University of Michigan, said the trial remains a “public performance” that was “very much in line with governance practice in China stretching back into imperial times”.

“A sudden and secretive un-personing of a political figure or a Stalinesque show trial” were no longer possible in modern China, he said via e-mail, but it was still “far less than the kind of proceeding that the Anglo-American system at least aspires to have”.

China has in the past allowed high-profile defendants a dramatic voice at key moments, analysts said.

Jiang Qing, widow of the revered Mao Zedong, founder of Communist China, put in a melodramatic performance at her trial with other members of the infamous Gang of Four, parts of which were shown on television.

Bo’s spirited performance might be a intended as a “gamble” that the party would allow a lighter sentence so that the public felt his defence was meaningful, Lewis said.

“At a minimum, it appears that he has sought to use this trial as a vehicle for having a voice after being completely out of public view for over a year. Whatever the outcome of the trial, he has achieved that goal.”

Media Coverage of Ling Li’s Research on the Judicial Corruption

Chinese vase frenzy: bribery and the auction house
As the Chinese government pays ever more attention to the country’s pervasive corruption, art auctions have become the latest ruse for those giving or soliciting bribes.

By Malcolm Moore, Shanghai

12:30PM GMT 25 Mar 2011

Auction houses on the Chinese mainland are poorly-monitored, according to Li Ling, a law lecturer at Northwest University in Xian, and present a useful forum for people to pass bribes to each other.
The Chinese vase frenzy: Bribery and the auction house
The vase came from the collection of Dai Run Zhai, a Chineseman who became New York’s most distinguished art dealer after moving to America in 1950

The practice helps to explain some of the hugely-inflated prices that have been paid for Chinese art in recent years, although there is no suggestion that international auctions are also being exploited by grafters.

A typical scenario would see the person who wants to be bribed putting an artwork or antique of little value up for auction. The briber then buys the agreed piece for a huge sum, according to Ms Li in a research paper, ‘Performing Bribery in China.’

Sometimes, the auction house is not even required.

In one case discovered by prosecutors in the eastern city of Nanjing, a property developer bought two paintings directly from a government official. The appraised value of the paintings was 3,000 yuan (£284), but the developer paid more than 333 times as much.

The sly arrangement, and the role of the auction houses, has become the subject of a quasi-autobiographical bestseller by Hu Gang, a Chinese author and former auctioneer.

Mr Hu was convicted in 2003 for bribing three judges with 490,000 yuan in exchange for commissions to carry out auctions of court-seized property. He wrote “Celadon”, a novel about a corrupt auctioneer, from his jail cell.

In the book, a protagonist called Mr Zhang bribes a judge in a remarkably circuitous way.

First Mr Zhang arranges for a tutor to teach the judge’s son Chinese calligraphy. Then, he discreetly auctions the son’s calligraphy at his auction house, and instructs his friend to bid for it. As the auctioneer, he then hands an envelope of cash to the judge, even subtracting the auction commission from the total.

“It can stand any investigation,” Mr Zhang reassures the judge.

Mr Hu has confirmed that while the book is fiction, it is an accurate reflection of real life. The book has become wildly popular in China as a manual of how to practice the delicate, and often underhand, art of cultivating business relationships.


ABA Journal: Change in China: Innocence Project Movement Rises to the Aid of Wrongfully Convicted

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


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