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 having to work overtime to meet unreasonably 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 that she and her husband cannot afford to house their own children. Instead, they live hours away 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 female employees at Buma do get benefits like three months of paid maternity leave, federal health insurance, and a useful (albeit sexist) monthly bonus of $10.50 if they choose to work though a painful period. 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 factory supervisors intimidate those who join labor unions.
Management also plays games with Indonesian laws, taking advantage of the ignorance of their employees when it comes to their rights. Toto Sunarto, the leader of the local labor union, told reporters that in May, 290 people were fired from Buma shortly before Ramadan because Indonesian law mandates that workers receive a holiday bonus according to their religion. To circumvent this law, Buma has a nasty strategy of firing workers right before the holiday begins, though they'll consider rehiring them later.
“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 a stake 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 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 told Alia about Ivanka Trump's heavily critiqued book "Women Who Work: Rewriting the Rules For Success,", she could only laugh. She told the journalists that her idea of a "work-life balance" would be to see her children more than only once a month.
Banner/thumbnail credit: Reuters