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Chinese Labor Conditions Threaten Value Of Ivanka Trump's Brand


An investigator looking into working conditions at a Chinese factory has been arrested. Two of his colleagues have disappeared. They were with the advocacy group China Labor Watch, and the factory they were examining makes products for Ivanka Trump's fashion line, among other companies. NPR's Jim Zarroli looks at the impact this could have on Ivanka Trump's business.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: Scandals over working conditions at third-world factories are nothing new. TV personality Kathie Lee Gifford once sold a line of clothes made in a Central American factory that used child labor. When the news broke in 1996, Gifford reacted indignantly.


KATHIE LEE GIFFORD: When you say I don't care about children, that I will exploit them for some sort of monetary gain - for once, Mr., you better answer your phone because my attorney is calling you today. How dare you?

ZARROLI: Apple, Walmart and Nike have all faced damaging stories about dangerous working conditions overseas. Most of these scandals have blown over pretty quickly, says retail consultant Jan Rogers Kniffen.

JAN ROGERS KNIFFEN: Normally the reaction on the sales line is a two- or three-day event, literally. Then things go back to normal.

ZARROLI: Kniffen says consumers don't like the notion that the products they buy are made in dangerous places, but they also like inexpensive goods.

KNIFFEN: For almost all of my career, what the customer really reacted to was price, availability and strength of the brand.

ZARROLI: But Kniffen concedes that may be changing. Social media has dramatically increased people's awareness of poor working conditions overseas and given activists new platforms to draw attention to it. Scott Nova, executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium, says companies are paying attention.

SCOTT NOVA: Brands understand that consumers don't want to buy products made with child labor, don't want to buy products made in dangerous factories, don't want to buy products in countries where workers face being attacked simply for raising concerns about abusive working conditions.

ZARROLI: What this means for Ivanka Trump is unclear. The Chinese factory where the arrests took place is also used by other big retailers. But Kniffen says Ivanka Trump is in a league of her own.

KNIFFEN: We've also never had anybody that was quite that high-profile and quite that close to an extraordinarily controversial figure trying to build a brand.

ZARROLI: Kniffen isn't sure how much the arrests will hurt Ivanka. But there's already a boycott of her products, and the arrests only add to the pressure the brand faces. Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF BASTIEN KEB SONG, "PICK UP") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jim Zarroli is an NPR correspondent based in New York. He covers economics and business news.