HYDERABAD, India — Ivanka Trump called Tuesday for greater efforts to help women start businesses and contribute to the global economy, but there was no mention of her company’s use of low-wage garment workers.
The president’s daughter and White House adviser was scheduled to be in India for two days, dubbed “a royal visit” by the Indian media. She came without senior State Department officials, a departure from years past when top-level U.S. envoys joined the conference.
To some, her appeals for female empowerment contrasted sharply with her own business practices.
Trump’s apparel company, which she still controls, exclusively relies on foreign factories in places such as Bangladesh, Indonesia, China and India, where mostly female workers are paid a few dollars a day for long hours, industry experts have said. The Washington Post reported this year that the Ivanka Trump company lags behind many others in the industry in the way it monitors treatment of its workers, most of them women.
Still, Trump was given a red-carpet welcome in one of India’s tech hubs as Indian business executives and political leaders try to work out the Trump administration’s “America first” trade policies.
She headlined an event focused on uplifting and supporting female entrepreneurs, but there was no mention of her apparel company’s use of low-wage workers in India and other countries to stitch her clothes.
Entrepreneurs and business leaders praised Trump, describing her as an elegant and professional working mother who built her own business and has been a strong advocate for women.
“She is a very fierce and independent woman. That’s what I admire about her,” said Renuka Diwan, co-founder of an agriculture start-up in Pune. “She’s successful in her own right. Nobody has to introduce her as Donald Trump’s daughter. She has made a name for herself.”
Ivanka Trump shared the dais at the U.S.-sponsored Global Entrepreneurship Summit with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and business leaders, giving a keynote speech that touched on her familiar themes of women’s empowerment and supporting entrepreneurship.
She touted the Trump administration’s work reducing “job-crushing regulations” that hurt small-business owners, its proposal for paid family leave and her efforts to lobby to pass tax cuts.
“We must ensure that women entrepreneurs have access to capital, access to networks and mentors, and access to equitable laws,” she said. She noted that if India closed the gender gap of its labor force by half, the economy could grow by $150 billion in three years.
But moments after her speech, former president Barack Obama confirmed details of his own three-nation trip that will include a meeting this week in New Delhi with Modi on issues such as climate change — a clear jab at Trump administration policies such as its intention to withdraw from the international Paris climate accord seeking to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Obama also planned meetings in China and France.
Entrepreneurs from more than 100 countries attended the event in Hyderabad, nicknamed “Cyberabad” because it is home to facilities of such tech companies as Microsoft, Facebook and Google. On Wednesday, Trump is set to appear on a panel titled “We Can Do It! Innovations in Workforce Development and Skills Training.”
President Trump announced that his daughter would be leading the U.S. delegation to the event after a White House meeting with Modi in June.
Her visit is seen here as an opportunity for India to cement ties with the Trump administration. But it was shadowed by questions over political maneuverings back home. State Department officials and analysts speculated that the decision to leave her without a high-powered team was a snub by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
On Tuesday, Trump met for the second time with India’s minister of external affairs, Sushma Swaraj, and she was the guest of honor at a glitzy dinner that Modi hosted Tuesday at a hilltop marble palace that once belonged to a Nizam, one of the monarchs who ruled Hyderabad before India’s independence from Britain.
In advance of the VIP visit, officials tried to clear the streets of Hyderabad of beggars — and even stray dogs.
In India, a country of 1.3 billion people, empowering women is particularly challenging, analysts say. The rate of women joining the workforce has dropped, particularly in rural areas, even as incomes have grown. Female entrepreneurs face specific challenges: Only about 14 percent of businesses are headed by women, a third in the agricultural sector.
Female business owners have difficulty accessing capital and being taken seriously in a business culture that is male-driven, entrepreneurs say.
“There are many challenges,” said Thejaswi S., a Bangalore-based entrepreneur creating a line of affordably priced nutrition bars and who uses only his second initial. “They say: ‘You are female. This is the age you are supposed to get married, not get into business. You are too young to head a company.’ This is what people say, even in my own family.”
While more women are attending college than ever before, women are still underrepresented in professional programs like law and management, according to Vijayaraghavan M. Chariar, a professor of rural development and technology at the Indian Institute of Technology in New Delhi.
“There are a few success stories, but there are very serious issues of patriarchy and gender stereotyping that are preventing a lot more creative women from joining the ranks of entrepreneurs,” Chariar said.
Trump, he went on, “is a nice Barbie doll. Everybody wants to have a picture taken with her. But there are much more substantial women who are entrepreneurs we ought to be celebrating.”
Trump launched her branded empire in 2007 with a line of high-end jewelry and gradually expanded toward a line of more affordable clothing, bags and shoes that garnered $100 million in retail revenue last year, according to Forbes.
Brian Murphy in Washington contributed to this report.