Ivanka Trump. © GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP CHIP SOMODEVILLA

By Oladapo Okeowo with agency reports

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An NGO on Wednesday announced the arrest of one of its member-activists who was investigating working conditions at a supplier for Ivanka Trump’s brand in China,

The man’s, Hua Haifeng, arrest was preceded by a lack of communication from two other men,  Li Zhao and Su Heng, who were involved in the investigation.

Hua Haifeng was arrested in Jiangxi province on suspicion of illegally using eavesdropping equipment.

According to the China Labour Watch director, Li Qiang, the men were investigating issues of low pay, and excessive overtime for a report they were going to publish.

“In 17 years (since our organisation was founded), we have done countless such investigations and have never had any problems,” Li Qiang told AFP.

“But this is the first time we’ve investigated Ivanka Trump (manufacturers), so it may very well be related to the brand.”

Ivanka Trump is the daughter of US President Donald Trump and a member of his inner circle in the White House.

She joins a long list of Trump associates who have come under intense media scrutiny for their dealings in China.

Earlier, her brother-in-law, Jared Kushner had eyebrows raised over his financial dealings in China which seemed to include leveraging on his position and relationship with the president.

“We appeal to President Trump, Ivanka Trump herself, and to her related brand company to advocate and press for the release of our activists,” Li said.

Li noted the activists were probing two factories owned by major footwear producer Huajian Group — one in the city of Dongguan in southern Guangdong province, the other in Jiangxi’s Ganzhou.

Reactions

The news has sparked criticism for Trump and his administration. Especially under attack is his “Buy American” campaign slogan.

Adrienne Watson, the spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee (DNC) said: “Ivanka’s brand should immediately cease its work with this supplier, and the Trump administration should reverse its current course and confront China on its human rights abuses.”

Human rights group, Amnesty International, called for the release of the three if they were held only for investigating possible labor abuses at the factories.

“Activists exposing potential human rights abuses deserve protection not persecution,” said William Nee, the group’s China researcher.

He said: “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”

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.