By Drew Harwell, Annie Gowen and Swati Gupta
When Ivanka Trump leads a U.S. delegation to southern India this week, the president’s daughter will use her official role as a White House adviser to promote female entrepreneurship and economic power.
But looming over her visit will be an uncomfortable question that Trump’s company has refused to answer: What are the work conditions for laborers in India who have pieced together clothes for her fashion line?
Trump has called for more support for working women around the world, but she has remained silent about the largely female garment workforce in India and other Asian countries that makes her clothing.
Her brand — which Trump no longer runs day to day but continues to own — has declined to identify the factories that produce her goods or detail how the workers are treated or paid.
The India trip will further elevate Trump as one of the administration’s biggest stars. Her advocacy for women on an international stage has become a key element of her political profile and personal image.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president’s eldest daughter “has been a champion of women’s economic empowerment not just in words but in action,” adding that she helped launch a World Bank initiative to help female entrepreneurs gain better access to capital, “which will empower women across the developing world to start their own businesses.”
In a telephone call with reporters Tuesday to preview her trip, Trump talked about “the administration’s commitment to the principle that when women are economically empowered, their communities and countries thrive.” She will give the keynote address to an entrepreneur summit that is themed “Women First, Prosperity for All.”
Trump will be greeted in the Indian tech capital of Hyderabad with trappings befitting a royal dignitary, including a gala dinner with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a restored palace.
It will be a world away from India’s garment industry, in which laborers earn about $100 a month, some amid punishing workloads, verbal abuse and sexual harassment, according to union organizers and industry experts.
“On the positive side, it’s a huge employer for women, but the systematic issue is that we don’t treat women properly, otherwise they would not be working in this kind of system,” said Anita Cheria, director of the social justice group Open Space, which works with garment workers in the southern city of Bangalore. “These industries can do much better for women.”
Trump’s trip throws a spotlight on her company and persistent questions about whether its practices match her rhetoric about improving opportunities for women in the developing world.
A Washington Post examination in July found Trump’s brand relies solely on foreign workers to produce its goods and lags behind many in the clothing industry when it comes to overseeing the treatment of workers in its supply chain.
At the time, executives told The Post that the brand had started looking into hiring a nonprofit workers’ rights group to increase oversight and help improve factory conditions. Brand president Abigail Klem said she was planning her first trip to tour facilities that make Ivanka Trump products.
“We recognize that our brand name carries a special responsibility,” she said.
But four months later, it is unclear if the company pursued any of those steps. Asked about the status of Klem’s trip or the hiring of a workers’ rights group, the company declined to comment.
Executives referred to a statement earlier this year from Klem, who said the company “is committed to only working with licensees who maintain internationally recognized labor standards across their supply chains.”
Using clothing labels and shipping records earlier this year, The Post traced Trump’s products to Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia and Vietnam.
But it remains a mystery which Indian factories produce Trump’s goods, including an array of Indian-made cotton blouses sold at department stores such as Lord & Taylor this spring.
The Post sought to identify the facilities by interviewing Indian garment industry officials, union organizers and workers in New Delhi, Bangalore, Mumbai and the state of Punjab but was unable to locate the facilities.
G-III, a large clothing distributor that makes Trump products, recently expanded into Bangalore, a major hub for the Indian garment industry, according to people who work in the industry and a G-III employee in Bangalore, who declined to discuss its operations.
A spokesman for G-III declined to identify the factories it uses in India, noting the company works with independent manufacturers in countries throughout Asia and Central and South America.
More than 20 labor and human rights groups co-signed a letter to Trump this month urging her brand to disclose the names of its supplier factories and allow independent groups to monitor its conditions, among other steps. She has not yet responded.
International human-rights and labor advocates say Trump is failing to use her platform to illuminate the conditions facing female garment workers around the world.
“If Ivanka truly wants her legacy to include protecting working women,” said Judy Gearhart, executive director of the International Labor Rights Forum, “she needs to start with the women in her supply chain.”
Earlier this year, an attorney for Trump told The Post that because of her White House role, she “has been advised that she cannot ask the government to act in an issue involving the brand in any way, constraining her ability to intervene personally.”
India’s textile industry is one of its largest employers, accounting for 15 percent of total exports and bringing in $17 billion for ready-made garments between 2016 and 2017, government data show.
Garment factories are spread across India, with a concentration around the capital city of New Delhi and the states of Punjab, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.
Women make up 60 percent of India’s garment sector, according to government data cited by the industry-backed Clean Clothes Campaign, though that does not count the large informal sector of women who sew from home.
The Garment Labor Union in Bangalore says women make up 85 percent of its total workforce, with unskilled and semiskilled laborers earning about $4.60 to $4.70 a day. Workers are often crammed into noisy factories without air conditioning — unbearable in India’s summer heat, when temperatures soar to 120 degrees. They churn out hundreds of shirts and jeans per day, with little time for water breaks, advocates said.
Despite the difficult working conditions, the industry overall has a good record in compliance checks for child labor, fire safety and overtime, experts said.
For her part, Ivanka Trump is increasingly playing a prominent diplomatic role in her father’s administration, frequently representing the United States among foreign dignitaries and heads of state.
In September, during a session of the United Nations General Assembly, Trump met with India’s foreign minister, Sushma Swaraj, whom she said in a tweet she has “long respected.”
She has faced mixed reception abroad. In Japan this month, she spoke to a half-empty auditorium, and she was booed by some in a Berlin audience this spring when she described her father as a “tremendous champion of supporting families.”
During her visit to India, Trump will lead the U.S. delegation to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Hyderabad, a city of more than 6 million people and home to office campuses for Google, Facebook and Amazon.
The summit was launched in 2010 by the Obama administration as a way to link entrepreneurs with Muslim communities around the world. This year’s summit, co-hosted by India and the United States, is expected to host 1,500 business leaders and other attendees from 170 countries. More than 50 percent of the entrepreneurs in attendance will be women, organizers said.
Ivanka Trump will speak Tuesday at the summit’s plenary session, “Be the Change: Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership,” and will appear the following day for a session titled, “We Can Do It! Innovations in Workforce Development and Skills Training.” In her speech, Trump is expected to touch on themes such as women’s economic empowerment.
On the first day of the summit, Modi will host Trump at a gala dinner in the restored Falaknuma Palace, a luxury hotel previously owned by one of the monarchs, or nizams, who ruled Hyderabad before India’s independence.
Guests are traditionally ferried to the sprawling Italian-marble palace in a horse-drawn carriage and sprinkled with rose petals. The president’s daughter will dine with Modi and other dignitaries at a 101-seat teak table once known as the world’s longest dining table.
The city of Hyderabad has spent weeks preparing for the visit, doing an estimated $1.85 million in road repairs alone, according to municipal commissioner Harichandana Dasari.
Giant potholes have been repaired, and a bridge that Trump is scheduled to pass was painted in the colors of a rainbow. A local paper also reported that the ranks of stray dogs, ubiquitous in Indian cities, have mysteriously thinned.
Hundreds of panhandlers have been rounded up and swept out of sight, tucked in a shelter house run by a local ashram, according to local officials.
“We were told Ivanka is coming from America, and they want to round up the beggars,” said Gattu Giri, the joint secretary of the Amma Nanna Anada Ashramam, which has picked up the homeless in a $20,000 bus paid for by the State Bank of India.
Harwell reported from Washington. Gowen reported from New Delhi. Gupta reported from Bangalore.
Source: Washington Post