Ivanka Trump’s apparel brand has been beset by scandal—some amusing, some less so. Now, the most recent exposé on the Indonesian factory making her clothes reveals horrific working conditions with little opportunity for escape.
On Monday, The Guardian published an investigation in which reporter Krithika Varagur spoke with over a dozen workers at the Subang, Indonesia factory where the company produces its clothing. The workers claim, among other things, that they are paid one of the lowest wages in Asia—below China’s minimum wage, verbal abuse (one reported being called, “animals, moron, and monkey”) and that women are offered a bonus of $10.50 if they don’t take a day off for menstruation.
The PT Buma Apparel Industry factory in Subang, West Java, is one of several suppliers for G-III Apparel Group, the wholesale manufacturer that produces Ivanka Trump’s brand, among others. They currently employee about 2,759 workers, of which 200 are members of one of two unions.
According to the piece, many workers at Buma live separately from their children, who stay home with grandparents or other family in more rural areas, simply because the workers can’t afford to care for them. Some are paid the province’s minimum wage, at the equivalent of $173 the lowest in the area. Others are kept on contracts, deprived of overtime and severance, and fired after several months.
Many of the workers are also Muslim, and most seem aware of and unhappy with Donald Trump’s policies in the United States, but feel they are unable to sacrifice their income over a moral stand. One worker told the Guardian, “We’re not in a position to make employment decisions based on our principles.”
Being Muslim can also add to the uncertainty of employment at PT Buma:
Beyond this, Buma also has a pattern of firing workers right before Ramadan and rehiring them a month later, to avoid paying a “religious holiday bonus”, according to several workers. Indonesian law dictates all workers are owed a holiday bonus according to their religion, which works out to at least a month’s wages or more depending on seniority. In May 2017, there were about 290 people fired before Ramadan, according to Toto Sunarto, a leader of the SPSI union in Subang.
Workers are reportedly also afraid to join a unions in the area, anxious they might lose their jobs. Most work overtime for zero compensation, as the factory inflates their production targets to get people to stay late and work more. Managers allegedly scan employees IDs as early as 4 p.m., so there’s no record that they stayed late.
Conditions at PT Buma are not far off from what many other factories offer, and Ivanka Trump is certainly not the first brand to use sweatshop labor. In a heavily reported piece on the reality of “ethical shopping” for HuffPost, Michael Hobbes explains that most companies outsource to places like PT Buma to keep up with the cyclical demand for clothes at all your favorite chains, which means they have little oversight into factory conditions:
In the fast-fashion era, Western brands can’t afford the luxury of working with the same suppliers and ensuring that they meet the company’s standards. And so, rather than manage a giant, respirating network of factories themselves, most of them have outsourced this coordination to megasuppliers: huge conglomerates that can take a design sketch, split the production between thousands of factories, box up the goods and ship them to stores in less time than they’ll stay in style.
But, unlike other companies, Ivanka has profited off of the idea of empowering women in the workplace, an idea that her factory employees find absurd. A woman employee reportedly burst out laughing when she heard about the premise of Ivanka’s new book, Women Who Work. “Her idea of work-life balance,” the Guardian reports, “would be if she could see her children more than once a month.”
Read the full piece here.