This story has been optimized for offline reading on our apps. For a richer experience, you can find the full version of this story here. An Internet connection is required.
On Inauguration Day, President Trump stood in front of the U.S. Capitol and vowed that his “America First” agenda would bring jobs back to the United States.
“We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs,” he declared, adding: “We will follow two simple rules — buy American and hire American.”
Looking on from the front of the stage was Trump’s daughter Ivanka, the celebrity and fashion entrepreneur who would soon join him in the White House.
The first daughter’s cause would be improving the lives of working women, a theme she had developed at her clothing line. She also brought a direct link to the global economy the president was railing against — a connection that was playing out at that very moment on the Pacific coast.
As the Trumps stood on stage, a hulking container ship called the OOCL Ho Chi Minh City was pulling into the harbor of Long Beach, Calif., carrying around 500 pounds of foreign-made Ivanka Trump spandex-knit blouses.
Another 10 ships hauling Ivanka Trump-branded shoes, cardigans and leather handbags bound for the United States were floating in the north Pacific and Atlantic oceans and off the coasts of Malta, Malaysia, Japan, South Korea and Yemen.
Those global journeys — along with millions of pounds of Ivanka Trump products imported into the United States in more than 2,000 shipments since 2010 — illustrate how her business practices collide with some of the key principles she and her father have championed in the White House.
While President Trump has chastised companies for outsourcing jobs overseas, an examination by The Washington Post has revealed the extent to which Ivanka Trump’s company relies exclusively on foreign factories in countries such as Bangladesh, Indonesia and China, where low-wage laborers have limited ability to advocate for themselves.
And while Ivanka Trump published a book this spring declaring that improving the lives of working women is “my life’s mission,” The Post found that her company lags behind many in the apparel industry when it comes to monitoring the treatment of the largely female workforce employed in factories around the world.
From big brands such as Adidas and Kenneth Cole to smaller, newer players like California-based Everlane, many U.S. clothing companies have in recent years made protecting factory workers abroad a priority — hiring independent auditors to monitor labor conditions, pressing factory owners to make improvements and providing consumers with details about the overseas facilities where their goods are produced.
But the Trump brand has taken a more hands-off approach. Although executives say they have a code of conduct that prohibits physical abuse and child labor, the company relies on its suppliers to abide by the policy.
The clothing line declined to disclose the language of the code.
Trump, who now works full time in the White House, has stepped away from daily operations of her business. She has assumed a high-profile place on the world stage — a role that was on display last weekend when she briefly filled in for her father during a meeting with foreign leaders, seated between the president of China and the British prime minister.
Trump still owns her company, which has faced increasing scrutiny in recent months for its use of overseas factories, and her representatives have said she has the power to veto new deals.
Trump did not respond to requests for comment about what efforts she made to oversee her company’s supply chain before she joined the administration.
Her attorney Jamie Gorelick told The Post in a statement that Trump is “concerned” about recent reports regarding the treatment of factory workers and “expects that the company will respond appropriately.”
In the wake of Trump’s departure, the brand has begun to explore hiring a nonprofit workers’ rights group to increase oversight of its production and help improve factory conditions, the company’s executives told The Post.
Abigail Klem, who has been a top executive at the brand since 2013 and its president since January, said she is planning her first trip to tour some of the facilities that make Ivanka Trump products in the coming year.
Klem said she is confident that the company’s suppliers operate “at the highest standards,” adding, “Ivanka sought to partner with the best in the industry.”
The company had not yet matched the policies of other labels because it was newer and smaller, she added, but is now focusing on what more it can do.
“The mission of this brand has always been to inspire and empower women to create the lives they want to live and give them tools to do that,” Klem said. “We’re looking to ensure that we can sort of live this mission from top to bottom with our licensees, with our supply chain.”
The company still has no immediate plans to follow the emerging industry trend of publishing the names and locations of factories that produce its goods. It declined to provide a list of the facilities.
The Post used data drawn from U.S. customs logs and international shipping records to trace Trump-branded products from far-flung factories to ports around the United States. The Post also interviewed workers at three garment factories that have made Trump products who said their jobs often come with exhausting hours, subsistence pay and insults from supervisors if they don’t work fast enough.
“My monthly salary is not enough for everyday expenses, also not for the future,” said a 26-year-old sewing operator in Subang, Indonesia, who said she has helped make Trump dresses.
Like many U.S.-based apparel companies, the Trump brand signs deals with suppliers, which, in turn, contract manufacturing work to factories around the world. The system allows products to be sold to consumers for lower prices and creates economic opportunity — and risks — for workers in poor regions.
In China, where three activists investigating factories making her line were recently arrested, assembly-line workers produce Ivanka Trump woven blouses, shoes and handbags. Laborers in Indonesia stitch together her dresses and knit tops. Suit jackets are assembled in Vietnam, cotton tops in India and denim pants in Bangladesh — a country with a huge apparel industry where garment workers typically earn a minimum wage of about $70 a month and where some have recently faced a harsh crackdown from factory owners after seeking higher pay.
And in Ethiopia, where manufacturers have boasted of paying workers a fifth of what they earn in Chinese factories, workers made thousands of pounds of Ivanka Trump-brand shoes in 2013, shipping data show.
Klem, the Trump brand president, said the company is exploring ways to produce some goods in the United States but that “to do it at a large scale is currently not possible.”
Klem spoke to The Post in the fashion line’s offices on the 23rd floor of Trump Tower, three floors below the headquarters of the Trump Organization. On a table next to her lay a copy of a 2016 Business of Fashion report, “Unravelling the Myth of ‘Made in America.’ ”
“The workers no longer exist here or only in very small, small capacity; the machinery in many instances does not exist here,” Klem said. “It is a very complex problem.”
Industry experts say about 97 percent of all clothing and shoes purchased in the United States is imported from countries where wages are lower and products can be made more cheaply.
If Ivanka Trump’s company followed the president’s exhortations to move production to the United States, its prices would rise dramatically, potentially pushing buyers away and dragging down company profits, according to industry experts.
The Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights, a nonprofit organization, estimated in 2013 that a denim shirt that cost $3.72 to make in Bangladesh would cost more than three times as much to make in the United States.
Instead of pulling production back into the United States, the apparel industry has been focused on a different strategy: trying to reassure American consumers that their retail purchases are not the result of exploitation.
A wide range of clothing lines now inspect their own supply chains to make sure labor standards are met, the companies say. Among them is Levi Strauss, which, like Trump’s brand, licenses some of its production from a large New York-based clothing distributor called G-III Apparel.
A Levi spokeswoman told The Post that the company inspects its production facilities annually and has published factory information since 2005.
Many smaller brands turn to industry-backed groups, such as the Fair Labor Association or the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, to help address factory conditions and worker treatment.
Krochet Kids, which sells dresses for less than $60, includes clothing tags hand-signed by workers at its facilities in Uganda and Peru. Reformation, whose dress Trump wore to a recent congressional picnic, screens its overseas suppliers and recently moved to an expanded factory in downtown Los Angeles, where it offers guided tours.
“The questions today aren’t whether to engage in [monitoring factories], but whether to go beyond, all the way down to the cotton fields,” said Doug Cahn, a former Reebok executive who pioneered the development of corporate codes of conduct and now consults for brands and manufacturers.
The Trump company’s relatively passive approach is notable — as is its lack of participation in industry efforts to improve conditions for workers, according to labor advocates.
“I have been doing this stuff for 20 years, and I have never seen her brand in any of these venues,” said Judy Gearhart, executive director of the International Labor Rights Forum.
Klem said that “as a small, young brand, we did not have the chance to influence the debate around social compliance issues, but that has obviously changed during this past year.”
“We recognize that our brand name carries a special responsibility,” she added.
The Ivanka brand: From glitzy jewelry to #WomenWhoWork
Ivanka Trump was a 26-year-old model and guest judge on her father’s reality show, “The Apprentice,” when she took on her first solo venture outside the family business: lending her name and creative energy to a Manhattan diamond boutique.
From the beginning, Trump said she envisioned Ivanka Trump Fine Jewelry as a glitzy refuge for the upper crust. In a 2007 Arabian Business magazine profile, headlined “Daddy’s Girl,” Ivanka Trump said the jewelry, mostly priced between $5,000 and $50,000, would be marketed to ambitious, wealthy women who “have everything, yet . . . nothing to prove.”
Initially, Trump’s brand put an emphasis on sustainability. In 2011, her company introduced a short-lived bridal jewelry collection made from “eco-friendly” Canadian-mined diamonds and recycled platinum. The following year, entrepreneur Russell Simmons’ Diamond Empowerment Fund, a nonprofit organization that works to help educate youth in diamond-producing countries, gave her its “Newest and Brightest” award.
“It’s just good business to care about everyone involved in the various layers of production . . . especially when the end product is such a beautiful symbol of love,” Trump said, according to a news release by the group.
By then, she had started expanding into other products, eventually signing deals for clothes, shoes and handbags.
Shipping data show that tons of Ivanka Trump-brand shoes were rolling off factory production lines in Dongguan, the sprawling industrial city in southern China, and onto container ships with names such as APL Beijing and Hyundai Dynasty.
Trump’s clothing line — styled to sell an image of modern metropolitan glamour — quickly became the core of her business, with mid-market prices and an expanding collection of stylish pumps, off-the-shoulder tops and flower-print cocktail dresses.
In late 2012, Trump signed a deal with G-III, an established apparel group known for its work with Guess, Calvin Klein and celebrity brands such as Jessica Simpson. Trump’s collection flourished and, with it, production ramped up in G-III’s contract factories across China and Vietnam, according to shipping data.
In 2016, G-III told Forbes that the Ivanka Trump clothing line had generated $100 million in retail revenue in the past year.
Trump served as her company’s star marketer, wearing her brand’s nude heels and a $10,000 bracelet during photo shoots and TV interviews.
In last year’s presidential campaign, Trump took the opportunity to showcase her products on the national stage. After she paid tribute to her father at the Republican National Convention in one of her soft-pink sheath dresses, her social media team urged buyers to “shop Ivanka’s look,” and the $138 Chinese-made dress quickly sold out.
In the company’s Trump Tower headquarters, a staff of about 16 employees runs the Ivanka Trump design team, social media accounts and branding campaigns — including #WomenWhoWork, a movement-as-hashtag that emerged as the company’s driving motto.
Its marketing mixes promotions for evening bags with celebrations of female power. What was once advertised as trendy clothing for women in “the boardroom and beyond” has evolved into what IvankaTrump.com calls “a solution-oriented lifestyle brand, dedicated to the mission of inspiring and empowering women to create the lives they want to lead.”
In recent months, however, efforts to market the upbeat Ivanka Trump clothing brand have run headlong into the polarizing Trump political brand.
After Nordstrom dropped her line in February, citing low sales, the president complained on Twitter that his daughter had been “treated so unfairly,” and pro-Trump supporters rushed to buy her products. Presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway drew a rebuke from federal ethics officials for telling TV viewers, from the White House press room, to “go buy Ivanka’s stuff.”
Detractors of the president, meanwhile, have posted negative reviews of Ivanka Trump items online, needling her for relying on foreign labor.
Klem said the controversies have not hurt sales. She declined to disclose figures, but said that the brand’s business is “growing rapidly.” Revenue was up 21 percent in 2016, with continuing growth in 2017, executives said.
‘We are the ultra-poor’
In May, Lord & Taylor stores showcased the newest items in the Ivanka Trump denim collection: a series of indigo, white and pink pants retailing for $79. Affixed to each was a label brandishing the #WomenWhoWork slogan, featuring aspirational admonishments such as “Act purposefully” and “Invest in each other.”
The labels on the jeans show they were made for G-III Apparel in Bangladesh, whose garment industry has weathered a series of deadly factory disasters, including a 2013 building collapse that killed more than 1,100 workers. In the wake of that tragedy, brands such as Walmart and Gap vowed to pay for safety training for factory managers.
Shipping records do not reveal which factories in the country produce Ivanka Trump goods, and both the brand and G-III refused to say which facilities make her products.
G-III spokesman Chris Giglio said the company’s supply chain is “routinely audited by us and by independent third parties. When issues arise, we work with our local partners to find and implement safe, fair and sustainable solutions.”
Along with facing safety risks, Bangladeshi garment workers toil for one of the world’s lowest minimum wages.
“We are the ultra-poor,” said Kalpona Akter, a Bangladeshi labor organizer and former garment worker who was first hired by a factory at the age of 12. “We are making you beautiful, but we are starving.”
In December, thousands of workers seeking higher pay went on strike outside the capital city of Dhaka. In response, police rounded up and arrested several dozen labor organizers, and factory owners filed criminal complaints against hundreds of workers, according to Human Rights Watch. An estimated 1,500 garment workers were suspended or fired.
At a Dhaka apparel summit in February, U.S. Ambassador Marcia S. Bernicat described the mass firings and arrests as “a giant, disappointing step backwards on labor rights” and warned that international buyers “have to ask themselves how they will sell garments made in a country where large numbers of workers and union leaders are suddenly arrested, fired or suspended simply because they or their fellow workers asked for a wage increase.”
A number of apparel brands have called on factories to halt the worker crackdown. A spokesman for H&M told The Post that it has instructed Dhaka factory owners that the company will pull its business unless the factories reinstate the fired workers and drop the criminal complaints.
Trump’s brand and G-III have not publicly addressed the crackdown. Klem said that the company’s code of conduct gives workers in its supply chain “the right to freely associate in accordance with the laws of the countries in which they are employed.”
In recent years, hundreds of clothing lines and manufacturers have poured millions into financing safety improvements in garment factories through two major initiatives, the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh and the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, a group made up of 29 North American retailers.
Neither Trump’s company nor G-III Apparel has contributed to those efforts, according to program officials. But a factory used last year by a G-III subsidiary has benefited from the safety initiatives, according to U.S. customs records and Bangladeshi government reports.
The factory, That’s It Sports Wear Ltd., the site of a 2010 fire that killed 29 employees, worked with both programs to install fire doors, sprinklers and other safety improvements, records show. The Ha-Meem Group, which owns the factory, does not produce Ivanka Trump goods, the company’s chairman, A.K. Azad, told The Post.
Jessica Champagne, deputy director for field operations and strategy at the Worker Rights Consortium, an independent monitoring group, said that “any responsible brand sourcing from Bangladesh” should support the accord, adding that “failure to do so puts workers’ safety at risk.”
Klem said the company would consider doing so if its yet-to-be-hired workers rights consultant recommends such a move.
G-III did not respond to questions about why it does not participate in the factory improvement program. At a panel discussion last year, one of its executives noted that the distributor has a set of standards that its facilities must meet.
“We have a team on the ground running around every factory in Asia and visiting these factories and drilling it into their head what these requirements mean,” Adam Ziedenweber, G-III’s vice president of global sourcing compliance, said in the March 2016 event at the Benjamin N. Cardozo Law School.
But Ziedenweber, who did not respond to questions from The Post, also noted the challenge of keeping prices low while making investments in factories.
“You know, the retailers, the consumers aren’t asking for it,” he said. “None of the consumers say, ‘Well, this was made in a building that was going to fall down.’ ”
Unable to make ends meet
Financial insecurity is a constant companion for the predominantly female workforce at PT Buma, a factory in Indonesia’s West Java province that produced a batch of Ivanka-branded knit dresses that shipping records show arrived in Newark on Jan. 18, two days before Trump’s inauguration.
K., a 26-year-old sewing-machine operator, told The Post that she makes the equivalent of $173 a month, the region’s minimum wage. Her full name, like that of other workers, is being withheld by The Post because the workers fear being punished or fired for speaking to the media.
She said she spends $23 to rent her small studio in the bustling factory town of Subang, where she sleeps on a mattress on the floor and hangs her clothes from a string hung along the wall.
She saves the rest for her 2-year-old daughter but worries she will not be able to afford elementary school fees, which can cost as much as $225 a year.
With no child care, K. is forced to leave the toddler at home with her parents in their village, a journey of about 90 minutes away by motorbike across the rice fields. On the weekend, she joins an exodus of parents from Subang who clamber onto motorbikes and into shared vans, racing home for brief reunions.
“I really miss the moments when we play together,” K. said.
A 25-year-old woman said PT Buma hires her as a fabric cutter on a day-to-day basis, paying her a monthly salary that ranges between $68 to $135 for as much as 24 days of work — far below the region’s minimum wage and a rate that workers advocates say is probably a violation of local law.
The fabric cutter and her husband have to borrow money to cover their daily expenses and those of their 10-year-old son, who lives 45 minutes away with his grandmother. She sees him about once a month.
Their possessions consist of her husband’s motorbike and their clothes. “I have nothing,” she said.
Inside the factory, workers said supervisors berate employees if they fall behind their targets or if stitches need to be redone. “Work faster, these clothes are urgent,” one 30-year-old employee said she was told. “Why do you work slow?”
PT Buma participates in Better Work, an international program to improve garment industry conditions, according to the Better Work website.
A PT Buma representative who declined to give his name said the factory no longer produces Ivanka Trump clothing. He said the company refused to answer any more questions and abruptly ended the call.
When asked about the working environment at PT Buma, Klem said in a statement that the brand hopes to develop programs to support the “thousands of women” in its supply chain.
For K., the dresses she has helped produce — which retail for as much as $138 — seem as out of reach as the daughter of the U.S. president herself, whose name the worker said she now wishes she had chosen for her own little girl.
“Ivanka clothes are beautiful, expensive, sexy — just perfect,” she said.
Fear of retaliation
The dangers to workers who try to seek better labor conditions are especially acute in China, where activists say heavy surveillance and police presences are used to protect company profits and the country’s lucrative reputation as the “factory of the world.”
Ivanka Trump’s products have been made in more than two dozen factories across China since 2010, shipping data show.
Yen Sheng, a Hong Kong-based company with factories in Dongguan where workers are paid between $190 and $289 a month, has shipped thousands of pounds of Ivanka Trump cowhide-leather handbags and other items since 2015, customs records show.
Employees in Dongguan told The Post that the company withholds sick pay unless they are hospitalized and avoids paying overtime by outsourcing work to the unregulated one-room factories that dot Dongguan’s back streets. But pressing for change is not an option, they said.
“If you don’t work, other people will,” one woman at the company’s Dongguan subsidiary Yen Hing Leather Works said. “If you protest, the company will ask the police to handle it. The owner is very rich. He can ask the police to come.”
Trump brand executives said its products are not made at Yen Hing. A manager at the Dongguan factory, Huang Huihong, told The Post that its workers have produced Ivanka Trump goods in the past.
Officials at Yen Hing denied the workers’ allegations, saying they “strictly follow the laws in our business operation.” Mondani, the Trump brand’s handbag supplier, did not respond to requests for comment.
The work conditions at Chinese factories that make Trump’s products have gained public attention in recent weeks after the detentions of three activists from a group called China Labor Watch who were investigating the facilities. The group said it found evidence at one facility of laborers working 18-hour days and enduring verbal abuse from managers, allegations that the Chinese factory denied.
Chinese authorities accused the activists of using illegal surveillance equipment and suggested they might have been selling commercial secrets to foreign entities. They were released on bail in late June. A trial is pending.
The State Department denounced the arrests, saying that labor rights activists “have been instrumental in helping . . . American companies understand the conditions involving their supply chains.”
Li Qiang, the group’s executive director, said it had never faced such police pressure in nearly two decades of experience investigating factories and said he believes this case was handled differently because “this is Ivanka Trump’s factory.”
Hua Haifeng, one of the detained activists, told The Post after his release, “The first question the police asked was to the effect of ‘whether you know it’s Ivanka Trump’s factory and then came here to investigate.’ ” Local police officials did not respond to requests for comment.
Li’s group says it has sent four letters since April to Ivanka Trump at the White House detailing the working conditions in the factory and asking for her to advocate for their colleagues.
Deng Guilian, Hua’s wife, also pleaded with Trump to intervene, telling The Post, “For her, it’s just a matter of a few words, but those few words would save the entire family.”
Trump has not spoken publicly about the case. Gorelick, her attorney, told The Post that Trump, because of her White House role, “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.”
Klem said in a statement that while the factory has not produced Trump goods since March, “the integrity of our supply chain is a top priority and we take all allegations very seriously.” The company that supplies Trump-brand shoes, Marc Fisher, said it would look into the allegations.
In the meantime, Trump has been increasing her international profile as an advocate for working women.
During a trip this spring with her father to Saudi Arabia, she told a group of Saudi female leaders that she aims “to help empower women in the United States and around the globe.”
In May, she published her book, “Women Who Work,” in which she detailed her commitment to promoting equitable work conditions.
“As a leader and a mother, I feel it’s as much my responsibility to cultivate an environment that supports people — and the roles we hold, both in our family and business lives — as it is to post profits,” Trump wrote. “One cannot suffer at the expense of the other — they go hand in hand.”
In late June, she helped unveil the State Department’s latest human-trafficking report, which labeled China one of the world’s worst offenders on forced labor.
“Let us recommit ourselves,” she said, “to finding those still in the shadows of exploitation.”
Gold and Harwell reported from Washington and New York; Sattar reported from Dhaka, Bangladesh; and Denyer reported from Dongguan, China. Alice Crites and Julie Tate in Washington; Andri Tambunan in Subang, Indonesia; Paul Schemm in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; and Luna Lin in Beijing contributed to this report.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story misstated when Abigail Klem became president of the Ivanka Trump brand. It also erroneously reported that Disney pulled production out of Bangladesh after a 2013 building collapse. Disney had already decided to end production in the country. The story has been corrected.
About this story
The Post drew from several sources to map the global supply chain of Ivanka Trump’s brand. The Post used Panjiva, a global-trade database, to examine U.S. customs records of containers that arrive at American ports. Through that data, The Post identified foreign factories that have produced goods for Trump’s company. Because many of the items are sent in bulk shipments through companies that do not disclose the originating factories, the data offer an incomplete picture of her company’s global production. Labels on Ivanka Trump clothes, shoes and handbags provided further confirmation of countries where her products have been recently made. The Post cross-referenced customs data with shipping coordinates from vessel-tracking databases FleetMon and MarineTraffic to trace the journey of the company’s foreign-made goods to U.S. shores. The Post also interviewed garment workers in China, Indonesia and Bangladesh.
Videos by Alice Li and Danielle Kunitz. Graphic by Gabriel Florit. Photo editing by Karly Domb Sadof. Design and development by Danielle Rindler
Embassies court Ivanka Trump to build a relationship with her father’s administration
She, in turn, has used foreign nations' interest to help soften her father's rough edges amid uncertainty over his foreign policy.
Buying Ivanka Trump: Fans embrace her brand as a political statement
A growing customer base is undeterred by controversies over its use of overseas factories.