life sucks for the garment workers making ivanka trump’s clothing line

With reports of unpaid overtime, mounting debt and visits to see their children just once a month, these workers’ lives are a world away from the lifestyle depicted in Ivanka’s book, Women Who Work.

by Charlotte Gush
14 June 2017, 10:55pm

Aside from being very "florals for spring," Ivanka Trump's clothing line has been maligned by department store boycotts over Donald Trump's political agenda, and now a Guardian investigation has uncovered the miserable details of life at the factory in Indonesia for workers who have to produce it. Literally have to -- Ahmad, who works in the local garment industry, and whose wife works in the PT Buma factory that makes Ivanka's line, told the newspaper, "We don't like Donald Trump's policies… But we're not in a position to make employment decisions based on our principles".

The bleak reality of working life at PT Buma is revealed through interviews with a number of workers. There are reports of unpaid overtime ("The management is getting smarter: they tap out our ID cards at 4pm so you can't prove anything," says 25-year-old Wildan), and of 'poverty wages' so low that workers cannot afford to live with their children, visiting them just once a month.

The report notes that many of the workers are making the local minimum wage, but it is among the lowest in Indonesia, and can be 40% less than the minimum wage in factories in China that also make the Ivanka Trump line. David Welsh, Indonesia and Malaysia director at the Solidarity Center, explains: "You have to assess minimum wages in the context of the country itself and, in that context, it's not a living wage… Given the disparity in wages across Indonesia, we see a trend whereby factories are migrating increasingly to the lowest wage jurisdictions … whose terms are essentially dictated deliberately by western brands".

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Seven workers told the Guardian that they were subjected to verbal abuse, being called things like "animals, moron and monkey". There are reports that the factory has a history of firing people before religious holidays, when, by law, workers are entitled to a "religious holiday bonus" -- only to hire them back a month later. A union leader told the newspaper that around 290 people were fired before Ramadan in May this year.

"They are not egregiously abused but are in circumstances so far removed from the first daughter's 'women who work' brand that it was impossible for them to imagine a situation where anyone would wear the dresses they were sewing," Guardian journalist Krithika Varagur writes in the report. In fact, when Varagur explains the gist of Ivanka's Women Who Work book to a worker named Alia, she writes that Alia "burst out laughing," explaining: "Her idea of work-life balance, she said, would be if she could see her children more than once a month".

Fadli, a young worker at the factory who sees the price tags on the garments, told the Guardian: "Sure I'm proud to make clothes for a well-known brand. But because I see the price tags, I have to wonder, can't they pay us a bit more?". "The buck stops with [Ivanka]," says Jim Keady, an American labour rights activist, "It's her name that's on the dress. Without her there is no brand."

The Guardian reached out to G-III Apparel, the exclusive supplier of Ivanka Trump's label since 2012, and received the following statement: "G-III Apparel Group, Ltd. is committed to legal compliance and ethical business practices in all of our operations worldwide; we expect and require the same of our business partners throughout the world. We audit and inspect our vendor's production facilities and when issues arise we work with our partners to correct them promptly." The White House had not responded to the newspaper's request for comment at the time of publication, and the PR company for the Ivanka Trump label declined their request. Read the full Guardian report here

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Text Charlotte Gush
Image Michael Vadon

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