Ivanka Trump is Focusing on the American Worker — and Getting Called Out For It

By Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch
Jul 19 2018 |
Photo by Fortune Conferences on Flickr

Trump wants companies to hire more Americans, but her brand still depends on overseas labor.

Update: Ivanka Trump announced on July 24 that her clothing and shoes company is folding.

It’s Made in America Week at the White House, and one of the big policy initiatives announced as part of the week’s activities is being led by Ivanka Trump.

In her position as a White House policy adviser, the first daughter is leading the launch of the new National Council for the American Worker. It’s essentially a workforce development initiative, aimed at boosting job opportunities for Americans through things like vocational training.

Ivanka Trump told reporters on a conference call on Wednesday that the White House is also working with private sector leaders to pledge to “do their part” by expanding apprenticeships and investing in their workforce, and there even will be a new advisory board featuring governors, CEOs, and other leaders to encourage public-private partnerships.

President Trump is set to sign an executive order launching the whole thing on Thursday afternoon. On paper, all of this sounds pretty darn good — here at AAM, we’re big backers of efforts to train advanced manufacturing workers, especially when the private sector gets involved. And we genuinely hope that the initiative does help more Americans obtain dependable, family-sustaining jobs.

But like many things the White House does, the rollout is being upstaged by criticism — and frankly, it’s at least somewhat deserved.

Refinery 29 is among the outlets pointing out that while Ivanka Trump touts her efforts to ensure that “millions of men and women who have been on the sidelines will now have the chance to find fulfilling work,” she continues to depend on overseas labor for her own businesses. It’s especially galling, Refinery 29 argues, that Trump wants private companies to sign a pledge to hire more American workers when she and the rest of the Trump family are not doing the same:

 “[A]ll of her namesake brand’s clothing and other products have been made in foreign factories for years… Ivanka Trump-branded dresses hail [from] Indonesia, her suit jackets are made in Vietnam, denim pants are created in Bangladesh, and shoes turn out to be from Ethiopia.

Some of the family’s Trump products have been made in places such as Turkey, Slovenia, Mexico, and Germany. First lady Melania Trump’s jewelry line has also been outsourced.”

And that’s not all. Newsweek reports that President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida just requested to hire “dozens of foreign workers.” There also are unanswered questions about where the president’s infamous “Make America Great Again” red hats are being produced.

“We guess ‘hiring American’ is easy to say as long as you don’t have to put your money where your mouth is,” Refinery 29 concludes.

Oof. Way harsh.

We’ve written about the criticism that Ivanka Trump has faced for this before; it tends to come up anytime she rolls out a new workforce initiative. It’s worth noting that Ivanka is often the Trump family member who bears the brunt of the outsourcing criticism, even though her father and others in the Trump clan have long depended on overseas labor for their businesses, too.

Part of that is likely because even though Ivanka Trump doesn’t oversee the day-to-day operations of her brand anymore, she’s still profiting from it and it is still found in stores (unlike the ties and steaks and other merchandise once hawked by The Donald himself, most of which has folded).

And although retailers like Nordstrom and now Hudson Bay have dropped the Ivanka Trump label, it still has a loyal customer base and is sold by Macy’s, Dillards, Lord and Taylor and others.

Meanwhile, independent investigations by organizations like China Labor Watch have reported on abuse at the overseas factories that make Ivanka Trump clothing and other products; three men with the group were even arrested by Chinese authorities for their role in exposing some of the harsh conditions.

At one factory in Southeast China, workers told the Associated Press that they faced “overtime that stretched past midnight, steep production quotas and crude verbal abuse… beatings were not unheard of.”

Sadly, this is the case at many apparel factories in places like China, and workers for bigger brands like the Gap and H&M also face violence in their workplaces. That is one of the reasons why making more clothing here is so important — the United States can lead the way in providing humane working conditions for garment workers while also giving consumers an alternative to sweatshop labor-produced clothing.

And many companies that have dedicated themselves to making their products in America have found success, including brands like American Giant, Alex and Ani, Allen Edmonds, American Roots, Buck Mason, Darn Tough, Hanky Panky, Hickey Freeman, Jolie and Elizabeth, L.C. King, Michael Stars, Mizzen + Main, Shinola, Stormy Kromer, Sword & Plough, and more.

Which brings us back to Ivanka Trump.

The first daughter could set a fantastic example — and truly put her money where her mouth is — by bringing at least a portion of her fashion line to the United States. By even having some of her shoes or handbags Made in America, for example, she would show private companies that reshoring is achievable and worthwhile while also directly supporting American job creation.

But until Ivanka Trump does so, she's likely to continue to face this criticism any time she talks about helping American workers — and it will be deserved.

Kyndal Sowers contributed to this post.