Ivanka Trump Supports Working Women, Just Not Women Who Work For Her

by
Laurel Dammann
Ivanka Trump is a self-proclaimed advocate for working women, but that's news to women who work in a factory responsible for her fashion label.

Ivanka Trump brand shirt and pants for sale on a clothing rack

Ivanka Trump claims to be a staunch advocate of "women who work," however, a recently-published investigation by The Guardian reveals her support only goes as far as it profits her.

Journalists spoke to over a dozen workers employed at a factory run by Korean garment company PT Buma in Subang, Indonesia. Buma supplies G-III Apparel Group, the wholesale manufacturer for Trump's fashion label. There are 2,759 workers at Buma and about three-quarters of them are women, many of whom are mothers who use the lion's share of their income to support children they are rarely able to see.

Workers at Buma are paid the legal minimum wage, but that wage is one of the lowest in Asia at approximately $173 a month. Despite almost constantly working overtime in order to meet impossibly high production goals, the employees' efforts are not always compensated. Alia, one of the factory employees that spoke with The Guardian, said that the amount she earns is so little to live on that she her husband cannot afford to house their children. Instead, they have sent them hours away to live with their grandmother.

To add insult to injury, Alia is an observant Muslim, like many Buma employees, and strongly opposes President Donald Trump's Islamophobic policies.

“But we’re not in a position to make employment decisions based on our principles,” Alia's husband, Ahmad, who works at another local garment factory, said.

Buma and Ivanka Trump tread a precarious moral line. While there were no reports of violent abuse from their factory employees, the workers are forced to lead lives stripped of all the tools for empowerment that Ivanka Trump preaches about. Permanent employees at Buma get benefits like three months paid maternity leave, mandatory federal health insurance, and a useful (albeit sexist) monthly bonus of $10.50 if they don't take time off work due to painful menstruation. They are not mistreated to the extent other factory workers are, but there are also no promotions and pay raises, verbal abuse is not uncommon, and those who join labor unions face intimidation.

Management also plays games with Indonesian laws, taking advantage of the ignorance of their employees when it comes to their rights. Indonesian law mandates a holiday bonus for workers according to their religion, and Buma has a nasty strategy of firing workers right before Ramadan and then rehiring them once the holiday is finished. In May, 290 people were fired from Buma shortly before Ramadan, according to Toto Sunarto, the leader of a local labor union. 

“It’s not surprising to me that in a factory like this, you have rank and file workers who are unclear on what their rights are, and what the law says in terms of wages and rights,” Jim Keady, a labor rights activist with extensive experience in Indonesia, told The Guardian. “But with these poverty wages — and I would call it that — just because something is legal, doesn’t mean it is moral."

Ivanka Trump stepped down from her brand in January, but given that her name is still her merchandise's defining feature, she continues to have stakes in how it's produced. She plays at being a lukewarm revolutionary, but when presented with opportunities to be authentic, she shows colors alarmingly similar to her father's.

Her position adds power to her words and makes her described dreams for working women a very real possibility, if she would only act on them. Instead she enables a work environment in which employees are given just enough to make them feel foolish for complaining, but never enough to enable them to lead full and balanced lives.

When The Guardian mentioned Ivanka Trump's heavily critiqued book "Women Who Work: Rewriting the Rules For Success" to Alia, she could only laugh. She told the journalists that her idea of a healthy balance between work and life would be to see her children more than only once a month.

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