It is not often that factory workers making shoes in China make it to the front page of the news. But, when it was reported that two undercover investigators working at the factory producing Ivanka Trump branded shoes had gone missing and another one had been arrested for filming illegal labour practises the world looked in the factory window for a moment. While the poor working conditions at the factory got a little extra attention due to the famous connection, the attention quickly moved on to the next news story and nothing changed for the factory workers despite the connection to the Ivanka Trump brand and her book Women Who Work – Rewriting the rules of work.
#WomenWhoWork connects and inspires women to create the lives they want to live by encouraging working women to help one another towards creating a better work-life balance. Unfortunately, despite all the good intentions, it completely ignores the thousands of women who are working on factory production lines working long hours in poor conditions to cheaply produce the branded items that will be sold as luxury essentials to fill our ‘empowered’ lives and wardrobes.
The workers producing our luxury items have lives that are anything but empowered or balanced, they are the forgotten Cinderellas with no chance of rewriting the rules of their work environment or creating a work-life balance as promoted by the brand of the shoes they make.
There is no fairy godmother or glass slipper in this story.
It is ironic that many of these factory workers, in fact, fit the target market for Ivanka’s Women Who Work book; they are young women who want a better life, young mothers who want to work and raise families, they follow the latest fashions and are ambitious for more in life. Except, these women are rural Chinese, Indian or perhaps Ethiopian girls. Young women who could never afford to buy Ivanka’s book and, honestly, would find little they could relate to in it. Instead of hoping to find an hour of quiet time in the morning for their yoga routine, these young women spend 11 hours of their day, 6 days a week working in dangerous factories for minimum wages.
These silent workers usually live on the factory site in dormitories far from their children and families. They live in rooms shared with 6 or more workers. Sleeping in bunk beds stacked three high.
Strict rules apply to all workers and infractions incur a fine that is deducted from their already small salary. Workers cannot leave the factory site during the week, except for a few hours on a Sunday if there is no extra over-time to do. The workers cannot have guests, they have no private space or time to go into town for a walk. They share bathroom facilities with hundreds of other workers. The factory floor in these factories is usually dirty, disorganized and full of potential dangers from moving machinery, over-stacked power points, and toxic chemicals.
The investigators at the shoe factory producing Ivanka Trump brand shoes also recorded highly illegal labour practises; excessive overtime hours, unsafe working conditions as well as physical and verbal abuse of the staff. Unfortunately, it seems no one really took any notice or enacted any changes. At the time of writing this post, one activist remains in prison and the other two are still missing. The factory has not been charged with any labour abuses, and shoes are still being produced there. The women working there have not been empowered by their connection to the Ivanka Trump Brand nor are they in a better position to create a life they want. A work/life balance for these women means trying to save enough money so they can travel to their hometown once a year to visit their children and families.
Empowering the workers in factories producing her branded items and rewriting the rules of work for them really would have been a much better topic for a high profile book written by the daughter of a billionaire. By using her influence Ivanka could have made a difference and changed this story to one with a much happier ending for the forgotten women producing her shoes. Perhaps instead someone else will take up this challenge and be the voice for those who have none.