A man has been arrested and two are missing in China after conducting an investigation into a Chinese company making Ivanka Trump-branded shoes, China Labor Watch, a New York-based advocacy group, said on Wednesday.
Labour activist Hua Haifeng was arrested in Jiangxi province on suspicion of illegally using eavesdropping equipment, according to Li Qiang, executive director of the group China Labor Watch.
The three men had been investigating labour conditions at factories that produce shoes for Ivanka Trump, the daughter of US President Donald Trump, and other Western brands.
The investigators had discovered evidence that workers' rights had been violated, according to Li.
"In 17 years (since our organisation was founded), we have done countless such investigations and have never had any problems," Li said.
"We appeal to President Trump, Ivanka Trump herself, and to her related brand company to advocate and press for the release of our activists."
The Ivanka Trump brand declined to comment while the White House and Ivanka Trump's lawyer, Jamie Gorelick, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Calls to provincial police in Jiangxi and Ganzhou city police were not answered.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said she did know anything about the situation and declined further comment.
The reported arrest and disappearances come at a time of sustained pressure on labour activists in China amid a crackdown on civil society under President Xi Jinping.
In recent years, many labour rights activists have reported being intimidated and harassed, temporarily detained, or restricted in their movement.
"Protection not prosecution"
Rights group Amnesty International called for the release of the three if they were held only for investigating possible labour abuses at the factories.
"Activists exposing potential human rights abuses deserve protection not persecution," said William Nee, the group's China researcher.
"The trio appear to be the latest to fall foul of the Chinese authorities’ aggressive campaign against human rights activists who have any ties to overseas organisations, using the pretence of 'national security'."
China routinely rejects foreign criticism of its rights record and says it is a country ruled by law.
China Labor Watch's Li said Hua and another investigator, Li Zhao, had worked covertly at a shoe factory in the city of Dongguan, in Guangdong province, that was owned by the Huajian Group.
The third investigator, Su Heng, had worked at a related factory in the city of Ganzhou in Jiangxi but went incommunicado after May 27.
Both factories produced Ivanka Trump-branded shoes, Li Qiang said.
Hua had been investigating a vocational school in Jiangxi affiliated with Huajian Group when he was arrested.
Hua and Li Zhao had been warned by authorities weeks ago that they were suspected of having broken the law, and were barred from crossing the border into Hong Kong in April and May, Li Qiang said.
Company linked to Trump's husband is also under scrutiny over China deals
The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee has called for an investigation into "potentially fraudulent statements and misrepresentations" made by companies promoting investment in a property development involving the family company of White House advisor Jared Kushner, who is Ivanka Trump's husband.
Chuck Grassley, a Republican senator from Iowa, requested a review of claims made by Chinese migration agency Qiaowai and the US Immigration Fund (USIF) in the marketing of the One Journal Square project in Jersey City, New Jersey to potential investors in China.
Grassley flagged his concerns to the Department of Homeland Security and the Securities and Exchange Commission in a May 24 letter.
Jupiter, Florida-based USIF contracted with Beijing-based Qiaowai to market projects including One Journal Square to potential investors through the controversial EB-5 scheme. The program offers qualified foreign investors the chance at a green card in exchange for a $500,000 investment in a US business.
EB-5 investments securities, companies and individuals that market these investments must comply with US securities laws. EB-5 schemes must also comply with immigration rules. Under United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) guidelines, EB-5 investors must put their capital at risk and the green card is not guaranteed. USCIS is part of the Department of Homeland Security.
Qiaowai’s promotional materials online and on social media, including for the One Journal Square project, sometimes referred to a green card guarantee or “safeguard” and the safety of capital invested in EB-5 projects. These phrases were deleted after Reuters drew attention to them.
Qiaowai’s assurances to investors that their green cards were guaranteed and their funds were safe appeared to violate US securities laws, Grassley's letter said.
Chinese investors account for around 80 percent of the nearly 10,000 EB-5 visas issued annually.