Earlier this week the Washington Post reported that the G-III Apparel Group, the exclusive manufacturer for several items in her line of fashion clothing, treat their employees like crap and are breaking local laws. That story is damning enough, but there "story behind the story" is potentially far worse.
Before I get to that, though, here are some "highlights" from the WashPo article:
- "Though Chinese law sets the limit for overtime at 36 hours per month, workers in all of the factory's departments exceeded that limit, working up to 82 hours of overtime a month between September 2015 and August 2016."
- "The factory's workers made between 1,879 and 2,088 yuan a month, or roughly $255 to $283 which would be below minimum wage in some parts of China."
- "Fewer than a third of the factory's workers were offered legally mandated coverage under China's "social insurance" benefits, including a pension and medical, maternity, unemployment and work-related injury insurance."
- "The factory also did not contribute, as legally required, to a fund designed to help workers afford housing."
- "Inspectors also cited the factory for a number of workplace safety concerns. It did not train loading workers on safety techniques or provide employees with equipment that could reduce injury, including lifting belts or seats with backrests."
- "The factory... never sought an assessment of occupational disease hazards like those common among workers dealing with repetitive tasks and harsh chemicals."
- "G-III shipped 110 tons of Ivanka-branded blouses, skirts, dresses and other garments to the United States since October [of 2016]." (Emphasis mine.)
It gets worse. As is typical of so-called "audits" of factories in supply chains for products shipped to the U.S., the managers at the G-III facility were warned ahead of time that the inspectors were coming.
Thus the violations that the inspectors found were whatever that couldn't be cleaned up with advanced warning. If G-III were, for instance, using off-the-books child labor (a not uncommon practice in China), they had plenty of time to lock the kiddies in a back room.
G-III also outsources to manufacturers in Vietnam, Bangladesh and South America, all areas where child labor and forced labor is depressingly common, often under highly hazardous conditions. Such cost-saving practices cost lives, as when a Bangladeshi clothing factory collapsed killing 1,129 and injuring approximately 2,500 more.
While there's no available evidence tying G-III to child labor and forced labor, Ivanka's use of the G-III sweatshop is particularly disturbing considering that luxury clothing commands higher margins than everyday clothing. Only greed combined with a disregard for human misery can justify the use of sweatshops to create luxury goods.
Donald Trump ran for President on a platform that criticized China for stealing American jobs and promised to bring those manufacturing jobs back. Well, at one time the U.S. had a vibrant clothing manufacturing sector and American Apparel proved long ago it can be profitable to manufacture clothing domestically. (The company failed through bad management and lousy marketing, not its business model.)
A newly-launched clothing factory located in "Trump country" would no doubt find plenty of workers. Sure, there'd be less margin for Ivanka but unless the company is very badly managed, the brand would remain profitable. Heck, if there were a problem, Ivanka could raise prices to compensate. They're luxury goods and thus not particularly price-sensitive.
Ivanka has a net worth of around $1 billion. Do she really feel that she needs the few dollars of extra profit per item that results from unsafe working conditions and illegal business practices? And if she does feel a need for that pound of flesh, what does this tell you about her character?
Before I end this post, I want to make it clear ahead of time responses like "those people are happy just to have jobs" or "you'd rather they starved?" Look, the fact that people who live in poor countries experience hardships isn't a reason to exploit them.
Goods sold in the U.S. should be manufactured in a manner consistent with U.S. standards of decency and fair practice. Period. At the very least, they shouldn't be manufactured in facilities that break local laws. Americans should not be benefiting from the misery of others.
I'd love to be wrong about Ivanka. I'd love it if she announced she's moving all of her brand's manufacturing to the U.S., where workers must be paid a minimum wage and are protected by OSHA. Assuming OSHA survives the Trump presidency.